Immigration is vital for innovation

While it’s no surprise that immigration policy remains at the forefront of political debate, conversations on this important topic often bypass the impact of policy on business in the U.S.   

For manufacturing, the topic of immigration and skills shortages are a topic that we must work to solve if this important business sector is to continue to thrive. Currently, more than 80 percent of employers report moderate to severe difficulty in finding talented workers with the skills and experience necessary for the job. Not enough students are exploring the industry as a viable career option. 

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The demand for skilled manufacturing employees is extremely high, and is only expected to grow in the coming years. The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte estimate that, because of the skills gap, 2 million American manufacturing jobs will go unfilled by 2025. 

With the ever-widening skills gap in America’s manufacturing industry, it’s time for our leaders to take action in reforming the immigration system to ensure American manufacturers are able to recruit top talent from around the world. 

As it currently exists, the system makes it unnecessarily difficult for talented, highly skilled people from other countries to work in the U.S. 

One challenge lies with the cap on H-1B visas and the messy legal immigration process. This year, there were 233,000 applications for the H-1B visa, a dramatic increase from last year’s 172,500. Yet the government caps visas at 85,000, rewarded via a lottery process.  

Think of all the talent we’re denying from working in this country. Graduate students from countries around the world come here to get degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines from our renowned universities. But because of the visa cap and the complicated permanent resident process, we are losing these talented young students (along with their skills, experience and degrees from U.S. universities) to other countries, putting us at a huge competitive disadvantage.  

While manufacturing companies like PPG and organizations like The National Association of Manufacturers are developing training and recruiting programs with high school and community college students, we need to be able to fill manufacturing jobs now. Our representatives in government need to reform the immigration system to allow the most skilled STEM talent to work in the U.S. and continue to strengthen and grow our manufacturing industry. 

Immigration reform is essential to our nation’s competitiveness. Without true reform, American jobs could go unfilled and cause the U.S. to lose its edge when it comes to innovation and the development of game-changing technologies and products.

Iams is vice president of corporate and government affairs for PPG Industries.

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