The U.S. Senate is close to voting on a bill promulgated by the Judiciary Committee that would, among other things,  raise the H-1B visa cap from 65,000 annual visas to 115,000.While insiders are still taking bets on whether the measure has a chance to pass (Josh Barro might be the first to predict definitively that it will) the increase in H-1B visas would mark a huge jump…and a good thing. Here are five reasons why:
  1. U.S. companies are hurting for skilled workers: The majority of workers in the science, technology, education and mathematics (STEM) fields come from other nations. USA Today reports that the cap was reached within a week, demonstrating how strong the demand is. There is no reason to handicap American businesses by cutting down the number of skilled workers they can employ.
  2. Keep ingenuity in America: One of the reform proposals is to create a streamlined path to giving foreign graduates of American master’s and PhD programs green cards and permanent residency. Currently, those graduates have to take their education back home, depriving the United States of the innovation and skill sets it needs to compete in the 21st century.
  3. Generate additional economic growth: Bringing more foreign workers into the country will generate jobs in other areas. These workers will need to buy groceries, purchase gas for commuting, buy or rent homes and pay for utilities, as well as all manner of services from schooling for children to nail salons and sporting events. To service these workers, other industries will have to hire more of their own workers to provide and get their business…workers who would predominantly be local Americans.
  4. Get out in front of changing global marketplace: The global economy is changing. We’re shifting from a manufacturing-heavy economy to one based more on information technology and services. The United States just can’t compete in labor-intensive industries with other nations that allow labor costs to be dramatically lower; there’s no way U.S. companies would be able to stay afloat. By contrast, U.S. companies can pay the higher wages needed for information sector jobs and still remain profitable. By increasing the number of H-1B visas and following other avenues of reform, the United States can stay ahead of the curve instead of being trapped in the past.
  5. We’re not going to let Canada show us up, are we?: Canada’s Minister for Immigration, Jason Kenney, has been visiting Silicon Valley and U.S. tech companies lately. Why? To lure their business to Canada by providing a quick path to permanent residency to “qualifying foreigners,” or in other words, the STEM candidates these companies need. Microsoft has already taken advantage of Canada’s immigration scheme by opening up an office in Vancouver…back in 2007. Why are we going to let our northern neighbors beat us in the innovation department?

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