Talented foreign-born workers play a significant role in our economy, but what’s often overlooked is the impact their children have.
Richard and Maurice McDonald revolutionized the fast-food industry when they founded their burger chain in 1940. McDonald’s is now known as a symbol of America by people across the globe. Their place as great American entrepreneurs might have never happened if their parents never immigrated here from Ireland.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was raised by a Cuban father. Oracle founder Bob Miner is the son of Iranian immigrants. These stories are not uncommon in high-skilled industries like tech. High-skilled foreign workers and their children have been a driving force in our economy.
There is evidence that the children of immigrants are particularly important in U.S. entrepreneurship. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor found in a 2012 report that immigrants start businesses at at a rate of 12.7 percent. Their children start businesses at a rate of 16.4 percent. The rate drops to 8.9 percent for second-generation immigrants. Non-immigrants only start businesses at 12.9 percent.
President Donald Trump has made immigration a cornerstone of his presidency. Some have expressed concern that the president might restrict high-skilled foreign work programs. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) looked at the impact foreign workers and their children have.
“We did a survey of the demographics of who innovates in the United States,” ITIF analyst Adams Nager told InsideSources.”We found a large reliance on immigrant innovation. 35 percent of the innovators that we sampled were born outside the United States, and another 10 percent were the children of immigrants.”
The ITIF survey looked at several factors to determine whether someone is innovative. The survey looked at whether they filed patents and whether those patents turned into ventures. It also examined their area of study and awards they’ve received. Nager adds the rate for immigrants is higher than for Americans born to native parents.
“I think that 10 percent is still a higher rate than the typical person born in the United States,” Nager said. “You’re more likely to innovate if you have a parent born abroad. ”
The Regeneron Science Talent Search is a research-based science competition for high school seniors. It has been highly praised over the decades. The National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) found in a recent report that 83 percent of finalists this past year were children of immigrants.
“The administration, if they were to crack down on these high-skilled visa folks, it could further exasperate the issue we’ve been already having,” National Immigration Forum integration programs director Jennie Murray told InsideSources. “We already predict skill gap shortages.”
The H-1B visa program provides employers with high-skilled foreign workers when they can’t find qualified domestic workers. Business leaders in certain industries have pushed back against efforts to restrict the program. Nager notes access to skilled labor is a top issue when he talks with business leaders.
“Workforce issues are very commonly at the very top of the list of priorities,” Nager said. “Companies are concerned that they’re going to have to forfeit opportunities for growth if they do not have access to the type of workers they need, or their suppliers don’t have access to the workers they need.”
Trump and others have argued that some employers have abused the visa system. There have been well-reported cases of employers using the program to replace domestic workers with cheap foreign labor. Some supporters agree abuse needs to be addressed, but warn most companies legitimately need those foreign workers.
“We find that, not only are the high-skilled workers filling gaps that we have in our workforce, they’re filling crucial middle to high-skilled gaps that we just don’t have the trained workers to fill to remain globally competitive as a nation,” Murray said. “They’re really filling key roles.”
CNN reported earlier this month that the government suspended expedited processing for H-1B visas. The president has argued companies should instead provide jobs to domestic workers. The issue for industry leaders is whether there are enough domestic workers with needed skills.
Business leaders are even concerned with the restrictions already put in place. The H-1B program, for instance, has a congressionally-mandated cap which currently stands at 65,000 visas. The program is allowed to grant an additional 20,000 only for foreigners with advanced degrees.
“Foreign workers are very important to many sectors of the economy, but foreign workers are especially important to technology,” Nager said. “A lot of the holes we’ve filled in the American workforce are in the technology sector, and immigrants play an enormous role in helping to satisfy that demand.”
Silicon Valley in California is renowned for being at the forefront of advancing digital technologies. Apple, Facebook, Google, and many others have offices there. These companies have led the way in innovation, and rely on guest workers to meet those demands.
“All around the world, Silicon Valley is recognized as a hub of innovation,” Dream Resource Center project manager Mario de Leon told InsideSources. “But something that’s missing from the conversation is the fact that Silicon Valley is a hundred percent dependent on immigrant labor.”
Leon adds that foreign-born workers can be found across the tech sector. They are business leaders, innovators, and work on the lower ends of the industry. Google alone filed 2,163 visa applications for skilled foreign workers they’re hoping to hire this year.
“Silicon Valley has such a high population of H-1B visas because the companies themselves are pushing Congress to open up opportunities,” Leon said. “There really aren’t a lot of native-born American software engineers, mathematicians, and people that can fill these high-skilled jobs in these industries.”
The Pew Research Center found in a survey that second-generation Americans are also better off than their parents. They are more likely to be college graduates, homeowners, and less likely to live in poverty. Education has played a major role when it comes to first- and second-generation immigrants’ success.
“They’re also getting those benefits of an early introduction to these innovative ideas in tech,” Leon said. “We have schools in the Colorado area and Mountain View that are predominantly composed of wealthy individuals, but also first-generation immigrants.”
Trump has primarily focused on illegal immigration since taking office. The president has not yet detailed exactly how he wants to reform high-skilled immigration and foreign worker programs. He has hinted towards possible changes in a draft executive order and made some minor reforms.
Trump does face legal limits when it comes to changing the visa program. He cannot overhaul the program unilaterally. The H-1B program is written into a law which means a congressional vote is needed to fundamentally change the program.