Kauffman Foundation: more high-skill immigrants, please

My Examiner colleague Conn Carroll has pointed to the Kauffman Foundation’s “Starting Smaller; Staying Smaller” study of how job creation has slowed up and its “Startup Act” ten-point legislative program for encouraging entrepreneurship and therefore job creation.  


I’d like to highlight one recommendation, quoting Kauffman Foundation president Carl Schramm and vice president Robert Litan: “Let’s import a lot more skilled workers, beginning with those who want to come here and found companies.” Amazingly enough, we don’t do that. Instead we reserve a lot of legal immigration spaces to the collateral relatives of low-skill immigrants and we provide a limited number of H1-B visas to high-skill immigrants that tie them to a specific employer. This is a form of indentured servitude, which was common in the colonial era but faded from importance around the time of the American Revolution. The public surely derives some benefit from the work product of a high-skill employee whose salary is kept down by the fact that he or she is tied to one employer. But the public would surely derive greater benefit if that employee were free to let employers bid for his services or, better yet, go off and start a business on his own.


I have written frequently on the need to change our immigration laws, and have been urging since November 2009 passage of legislation along the lines of the recommendations of a bipartisan panel convened by the Brooking Institution and Duke University’s Kenan Institute. They call for legalization of some currently illegal immigrants, stronger border and workplace enforcement and a switch from extended family unification to high-skill legal immigration. In the 20 months since then we have seen some moves to stronger enforcement, but there doesn’t seem to be any constituency for the switch from extended family unification to high skill immigration. High-tech firms would prefer to expand the H-1B program and the Hispanic organizations want legalization and more rather than less extended family unification.  


The Kauffman Foundation has made a positive contribution here by stressing how increased high-skill immigration could result in more job creation. They advocate the Kerry-Lugar startup visa bill, which would admit entrepreneurs from other countries, but would a higher limit on the number of visas than in Kerry-Lugar, or not limit at all. They also call for green card status for foreign students when they receive science, technical or engineering degrees from American colleges and universities. Yes, Schramm and Litan admit that this will provide more competition for American graduates. But, as they write, “our economy can only profit from having more skilled talent.” Amen. Now can someone figure out how to get a lobby for this legislation?

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