Immigrants are Good for American Jobs

Last Updated May 21, 2010 2:42 PM EDT

This survey from Duke is a few years old, but its startling results need to be heard today as we consider ways to "protect our borders" and "save jobs for Americans."
  • Immigrants were key founders of 25 percent of engineering and tech companies founded from 1995 to 2005.
  • This pool of immigrant-founded companies was responsible for generating an estimated $52 billion in 2005 sales.
  • The companies created just under 450,000 jobs in the U.S. as of 2005.
That's why Harvard Business School professor Bill George argues the US needs immigration reform for legal immigrants. This isn't about undocumented illegals crossing the borders, but immigrants who come here to attend school, get a job and start companies of their own.
"From 19th century industrialists like Scottish-American Andrew Carnegie to Yahoo's Jerry Yang, PepsiCo's Indra Nooyi, Google's Sergey Brin, or Harvard Business School's recently nominated dean Nitin Nohria, immigrants continue to occupy important positions of leadership in creating and driving the next generation of American businesses to success."
The problem, says George, is that since September 11, 2001 America has made it extremely difficult for them to stay in the country. The heat has increased with the inflamed rhetoric over border security and amnesty.

For example, we are significantly lowering the number of immigrants who can come here to go to school and work under H-1B visas. The country capped annual H-1Bs at 195,000 early last decade, but the cap is now down to 65,000. (The first 20,000 H-1B petitions filed on behalf of individuals who have earned a U.S. master's degree or higher are exempt from the cap.) The quota is set annually by Congress.

As a result, we are experiencing a sort of brain drain as immigrants return to their native countries to start dynamic businesses that pose competition to American firms. They are also fleeing to countries such as Australia and Canada that are aggressively recruiting immigrant talent.

Writing on the Huffington Post, George argues, for example, that the ceiling for H1-B visas (which allow immigrants to work here for six years) should be expanded to take in graduates of American universities.

"A reformed system should ensure that those who come to the US to study and earn advanced degrees receive a fast-track to citizenship."
What's your take on the H-1B visa program? Are we damaging our own international competitiveness?
  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.