Our broken immigration system hurts the economy

Unfortunately, our broken immigration system actually discourages the world’s best and brightest minds from coming to America to create jobs. 

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Here is the problem. Every year, according to the Institute of International Education, there are about 250,000 foreign students enrolled in our American universities to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (what are known as the “STEM” subjects). Foreign students represent the majority of our degree recipients in these subjects. 

So what happens to these students after they graduate from our colleges? Are we putting them to work to invent new technologies that would employ American workers? No, we are not. Instead, we are telling these folks to return to their home countries, or compete for a limited number of temporary visas (known as H-1B visas).  

Even if you are lucky enough to obtain one of these visas, that visa is temporary, does not allow your spouse to work in the country, and does not permit you to earn a promotion or switch jobs unless the immigration service approves a lengthy second application filed by your employer.

If you were a smart student at the top of your class and in demand globally, would you want to stay in America under those circumstances? Of course not.  It is time for our immigration policy to reward hard work, and to foster job creation rather than discouraging it. 

My immigration proposal will ensure that the best and brightest students from around the world in science, engineering, technology, and mathematics, who study in our universities, can stay here after getting their degrees. We will do this by stapling a green card to their diploma.  This green card will allow these students to start new companies, change jobs if a better opportunity exists, and allow their spouses to work in the country.

But, as this hearing will make clear today, fixing our broken immigration system is not just about attracting highly skilled immigrants to the country.

Study after study is showing that, even the immigrant who comes here with little or nothing in order to make a better life for his or her family — just as many of us and our ancestors did — is also critical to making America a more vibrant and economically successful country.

As local mayors will discuss today, immigrants are renewing many of our rust-belt communities that were once seen as having no hope for the future.  

The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston recently released a report which said that in the top 10 “resurgent cities” in the nation — defined as rust-belt cities that have made substantial progress in improving living standards for their residents — the immigrant population in those cities has increased from 4.5% in 1980 to more than 15% today. 

And, a recent study from the Kauffman Foundation showed that immigrant-owned businesses jumped from 13.4 percent of all new businesses in 1996 to 29.5 percent of all new businesses in 2010.

So unlike those who attempt to fearmonger the issue of immigration, I am not at all concerned that people want to come to America. I am much more worried about a day they no longer find America attractive.

I am confident that our distinguished panelists today will help us better understand the urgent need we face to reform our immigration system in a manner that will grow our economy by attracting those who want to come here to start a business or to contribute their innovative skills and talents to keep America’s economy strong.

Sen. Schumer serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee.


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