Calls for targeted immigration reform are growing louder from economists who say the United States’ supply of highly skilled workers cannot keep pace with increasing demand from its young businesses. Especially in technology and manufacturing fields, many believe foreign-born talent is needed to help firms reach their potential.

The BCG study suggests the dearth in highly skilled manufacturing workers is much smaller than some have reported. (Victor J. Blue/BLOOMBERG)

Conducted by the Boston Consulting Group, the study indicates that a “skills gap” indeed exists but that it’s not nearly large enough to spur panic or broad policy changes. The U.S. manufacturing industry is short roughly 80,000 to 100,000 highly skilled workers, according to the research, but that represents less than 1 percent of the American manufacturing industry’s total workforce.

Moreover, a severe gap was found in only seven states, six of which fall in the bottom quartile in terms of annual manufacturing output.

“Shortages of highly skilled manufacturing workers exist and must be addressed, but the numbers aren’t as bad as many believe,” Harold L. Sirkin, BCG senior partner and study co-author, said in a statement. “The problem is very localized.”

The findings counter other oft-cited studies that have suggested a need to provide easier immigration paths for highly trained, foreign-born workers..

The Kauffman Foundation earlier this month reported that the proportion of new companies founded by foreign-born entrepreneurs has slipped to 24.3 percent from 25.3 percent in the past six years after two decades of consistent growth. The decline was especially pronounced in Silicon Valley, one of the world’s greatest suppliers of fast-growing technology companies.

Researchers blamed much of the decline on increasingly strict immigration laws that they believe are making it more difficult for foreigners to start their enterprises in the United States.

Do you think immigration reform is needed to welcome more highly-skilled workers? Please join the conversation in the comments below.

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