Report: Highly skilled immigrants drive job creation for U.S. citizens


U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin (R-AR) (4th L) speaks in front of the Capitol July 28, 2011 on Capitol Hill. (Alex Wong/GETTY IMAGES)
December 15, 2011

If you’re searching for bipartisan agreement, Washington is the last place to look, particularly on the subject of immigration. But you wouldn’t know it listening to freshman lawmaker Tim Griffin (R-Ark.).

Griffin attended a gathering at the conservative American Enterprise Institute to discuss the emerging trend of reverse brain drain, the scenario where highly skilled immigrants, educated in U.S. colleges and universities, are unable to acquire a permanent resident or worker visa to remain in the United States. In some cases, skilled immigrants, educated in their home countries, are choosing to stay where they are rather than navigate the cumbersome visa application process.

“We’ve got an agreement from the president,” Griffin said. “This just doesn’t make sense.”

And the “nonsensical” trend is attracting the attention of the “folks back home” in Griffin’s Arkansas district.

“The encouraging thing is, all across the spectrum, people, regardless of where they normally are on illegal immigration — there’s a lot of unity on this point,” Griffin said.

This political equivalent of the spotted zebra, according to Griffin, is a strong indicator of future congressional action.

“We need more STEM grads and we need to quit equipping our competitors,” said Griffin, who is working on a bill that he anticipates will be done by the end of January. “We were going to call it NERDS — New Employees for Research and Development in STEM,” said Griffin to chuckles from the audience. “We have decided, instead, to call it the BRAIN act — Bringing and Retaining Accomplished Innovators for our Nation.”

The BRAIN Act would allow those who acquire a master’s degree or PhD from an accredited U.S. university, are in the country legally on a student visa and are able to secure a job in the STEM fields to be placed on a track for a permanent resident visa, or green card.

Griffin appeared alongside Agnes Scott College economics Professor Madeline Zavodny and Chairman and CEO of IMC Inc. Sudhakar Shenoy. AEI’s American.com editor-in-chief Nick Schulz moderated the event, which was sponsored jointly by AEI and the Partnership for a New American Economy, members of which include New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) , Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (D) and News Corp. Chairman, CEO and founder Rupert Murdoch.

“I think there’s a popular perception out there that having more immigrants takes away jobs from natives,” said Zavodny, presenting her study, “Immigration and American Jobs,” jointly sponsored by AEI and the partnership.

“But there’s an alternative,” she continued, “which is that immigrants compliment natives, and they actually create jobs.”

Zavodny’s findings illustrate the ways in which highly skilled immigrants create jobs for U.S. citizens. According to her findings, during the 2000-2007 period, for every additional 100 foreign-born workers with advanced degrees in STEM fields, 262 additional jobs are created for native U.S. citizens on average. Meanwhile, for every 100 foreign-born workers with an advanced degree in a non-STEM-related field, only 44 additional jobs were created.

These types of immigrants are also a net revenue generator for Uncle Sam, according to the study, with the average highly skilled immigrant paying $22,000 in taxes and receiving only $2,300 in government benefits on average.

So, given this, why has this issue been, to date, a nonstarter when it comes to legislative action?

The problem is that data alone does not drive decision-making.

“Under the current laws that we have,” said Shenoy, an Indian immigrant who became a U.S. citizen, “I’m afraid we’ll have real green lawns, but not enough innovation going on.”

Regardless of whether you agree that this will be the case, Shenoy illustrates the key problem facing advocates for increased immigration among the highly skilled. Say the word “immigration,” and the b-roll of immigrants migrating illegally over the nation’s southern border is what plays in most Americans’ minds, making this an agreed-upon subset of comprehensive immigration reform — a highly contentious issue with a bevy of bills that are not going anywhere anytime soon.

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