New American Enterprise Institute Study Shows Benefits of Foreign Workers to U.S. Workforce

A new study released yesterday by the American Enterprise Institute confirms the powerful job-creation effects for American workers when well-educated foreign nationals are welcomed into our workforce. According to the study, each additional 100 foreign-born holders of advanced degrees from U.S. universities working in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields create an additional 262 jobs among U.S. workers.

This conclusion lines up with prior research, and with our experience at Microsoft. Our workforce is made up overwhelmingly of U.S. workers, but foreign experts on work visas are a critical part of our innovation and job-creation dynamic. This means not only direct job creation, but dramatic downstream economic effects as well. According to a 2010 study by the University of Washington’s Economic Policy Research Center, every job at Microsoft supported 5.81 jobs elsewhere in the state’s economy.

To reduce our unemployment rate, we must first understand it. As Microsoft’s General Counsel, Brad Smith, emphasized this summer in testimony before the U.S. Senate, our country is operating with a “dual” unemployment rate. There is one for those with a strong post-secondary education, and another starkly different one for those without it. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data from November, the unemployment rate for individuals with only a high school diploma is 8.4 percent. By contrast, the unemployment rate for individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher is 4.2 percent.

The unacceptably high overall unemployment rate mustn’t tempt policymakers away from leveraging high-skilled immigration policy as a way to create new American jobs. Instead, as the new AEI study shows us again, bringing in more smart, well-educated workers will create more jobs for Americans.

The initial steps are obvious. Congress should first pass H.R. 3012, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act. Today, discriminatory per-country limits on employment based green cards mean that experts from some countries wait years longer in the already-extreme green card backlog than those from the rest of the world. This should stop. The bill that would change this passed the U.S. House of Representatives with overwhelming bipartisan support. The U.S. Senate should quickly follow suit.

Our immigration laws also should give priority to workers who earn advanced degrees from U.S. universities and work in STEM fields. There is much more that can be done in Congress, and good ideas abound. We believe the time to act is long overdue.

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