The strong U.S. economy is putting pressure on companies to expand and staff up to take advantage of opportunities. The good news is that while there are increased barriers and obstacles for immigrants in general, well-screened qualified applicants are still getting approved. It is critical for the United States to keep and attract the best and brightest graduates and workers. High-tech and research industries are reporting difficulties in finding sufficient numbers of qualified workers in the United States, leaving potential openings for immigrants.
STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields are likely to continue to generate strong demand for highly qualified workers. Observers have noted a feeding frenzy for employees with artificial intelligence (AI) and data science backgrounds, for example. Immigrant founders are prevalent among the leading AI startups. According to Morning Consult, which surveyed the “AI 50” list compiled by Forbes, at least 34 of the AI 50 companies have one or more immigrant founders and at least 55 of the 125 founders across all companies were born outside the United States. Lamentably, however, there is no “start-up visa” available in the United States, unlike many other countries. The U.S. visa system is complex and many numerical caps are stagnant.
Morning Consult also reports that approximately two-thirds of U.S. graduate students in AI fields were born abroad, and 65 percent of math and computer science professionals in the Silicon Valley workforce are foreign-born. The research indicates that rather than displacing domestic U.S. workers, these immigrants fill a critical talent gap and help create opportunities.
Moreover, our ability to attract foreign talent with high-tech knowledge and skills gives the United States a national security advantage, according to Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET). CSET recommends a “clear and realistic path toward long-term legal status” in the United States for the best and brightest global talent. CSET notes that U.S. tech employers with active AI programs recruit thousands of noncitizens each year through temporary worker programs and sponsor thousands more for lawful permanent residence. Despite this, a substantial portion of investment and talent is migrating elsewhere. China has been attracting 60 percent of global investment in AI for years, and other countries are doubling down on creating or updating visa programs, incentives, and work authorization processes for immigrants with strategic skills, CSET observes.
Too often these days, would-be immigrants are turned off by an outdated, cumbersome U.S. visa system; ongoing uncertainty; and negative perceptions fueled by tweets and media reports that the United States no longer welcomes foreign talent, which in some cases is supported by facts and anecdotal horror stories. Congress and the President should do more to expand U.S. opportunities and support worker mobility to attract and retain the cream of the crop—the best and the brightest—for the good of our economy and our national security.
For more information on the H-1B process, register for our January 8, 2020 H-1B Webinar and read WR’s H-1B Lottery FAQ. Contact your Wolfsdorf Rosenthal attorney for help in preparing H-1B applications and for advice in specific situations.
- Morning Consult article, https://morningconsult.com/opinions/immigration-and-the-future-of-u-s-ai/
- “Immigration Policy and the U.S. AI Sector,” CSET, https://cset.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/CSET_Immigration_Policy_and_AI.pdf