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Want to create more jobs? Welcome highly skilled immigrants

By Ed Wolking Jr.

Every year on April 1, the federal government (US Customs and Immigration Service) opens up 85,000 H-1B opportunities for highly skilled workers in the lottery for talent to help drive our economy.  That’s all employers are allowed, by law.  Once again this year, on April 7, this artificial cap was reached in less than a week, and employers flooded the system with nearly three times the number of applications, reflecting their need for skilled workers.

Employers desperately need to fill these well-paying positions.  It’s one big reason why the U.S. economy isn’t growing like it should. In the twelve-state Great Lakes trading region, employers posted nearly 2.5 million positions last year in just four of the many STEM-related clusters – health care, information technology, advanced manufacturing skilled trades, and advanced manufacturing engineers and designers.  That was up 53% from 2014 and 123% from 2010, when we first began tracking this number.

Eight of the twelve states in our Great Lakes trading region rank in the top twenty for H-1B visa-sponsoring employers, and Michigan resides at number twelve.  These are well-paying jobs, averaging $75,000 to $91,000 annual salary – not jobs where employers are looking for “cheap foreign labor.”  And among all U.S. metro areas, Detroit ranks eighth in the number of H-1B approvals, and Detroit and Ann Arbor rank ninth and tenth respectively in the ratio of H-1B approvals to total employment.

It is short-sighted and self-defeating to allow our world-leading universities to educate so many people from throughout the world and then our outmoded laws send them off to compete against us. Studies show that highly skilled immigrants produce significant upside multipliers creating jobs and driving innovation.  For every 100 foreign born graduates of a U.S. Master’s or Ph.D. program who stay in the United States working in a STEM field, 262 jobs are created for Americans, according to the American Enterprise Institute and the Partnership for a New American Economy.  If these highly recruited immigrants are unable to work in the United States, other nations will benefit from their skills and use them to compete against us.

Unfortunately, the political debate around immigration has stalled previous efforts to achieve this reform. After the election season has passed, our elected officials need to move on immigration reform that deals with our broken system. The economic implications for the Great Lakes region and the entire country are pretty clear.

Want to create more jobs for U.S. citizens?  Then bring in more highly-skilled immigrants.

Ed Wolking Jr. is Executive Director of the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition and Executive Counsel of the Detroit Regional Chamber.