The lessons taken from this month's election may vary, but the one thing we all agree on is that getting our economy moving again must be our top priority. We have an opportunity to come together to bring high-skilled immigrants into our workforce and boost economic growth, and to reunite families.
Friday, the House will vote on the STEM Jobs Act, a bill introduced by House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, that will award 55,000 visas to foreign graduates of U.S. universities with doctoral and master's degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Entrepreneurship and job creation won't kick into high gear until businesses have the workers they need to drive growth and innovation, and immigrants have always been a key part of the equation. Unfortunately, current immigration laws keep foreign-born workers out of America, even after they have earned master's and doctoral degrees from U.S. universities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, where high-skilled workers are desperately needed.
American employers understand that their success — and the success of our economy — depends on a highly skilled, diverse workforce made up of the best and brightest from around the world. In 2006, immigrants filed over a quarter of the total patent applications in the United States.
At major American companies like Qualcomm, Merck, GE and Cisco, immigrants contributed to as many as 72 percent of the patents filed, giving those businesses a competitive edge, helping them expand and create jobs here at home.
While immigrants represent just 13 percent of the population, last year they were responsible for launching 28 percent of all new businesses. By some counts, one-quarter of all STEM-focused companies in the United States count at least one immigrant as a founder. The notion that we would educate talent like this in our best universities and then send those graduates back home to compete against us makes no sense, especially in this economy.
I hear from employers all the time who want to hire workers in the STEM fields, but can't find enough qualified candidates in the United States. Worse, our immigration system prevents those employers from hiring qualified foreign graduates who were educated in America and want to stay here. As a result, companies are facing a dearth of talent. Highly skilled, highly educated workers will succeed wherever they go. We must act to keep these workers in America where they can drive innovation, entrepreneurship and job creation, and help build a stronger economy.
Another issue facing the American immigrant workforce is that families are being separated by the backlog in our immigration system. More than 300,000 family members of lawful permanent residents are waiting on lists to join their spouses or parents in America. This bill keeps families together by allowing husbands, wives and minor children of immigrant workers to wait with their families in the U.S. for their own green cards.
There is a lot of work to be done to reform our country's immigration system, and not all of it will be easy. We can work together to enact the bipartisan STEM Jobs Act to ensure the world's top talent can stay and work in America, and that families can stay together.
Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., is the House majority leader (www.MajorityLeader.gov).