America Needs A Pro-Growth Immigration System

Editor’s note: Marco Rubio is a United States Senator from Florida. Follow him on Twitter @marcorubio.

Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation will examine the role of immigrants in America’s innovation economy. More specifically, the committee will look at how our broken immigration system is holding back American innovation and job creation, and how the immigration reform proposal before the Senate can promote a thriving U.S. technology sector that benefits American workers.

While there are a number of broken aspects of our immigration system today – including porous borders, weak workplace enforcement and an inadequate system to track foreign visitors who overstay their visas –
one that also stands out is the way we handle academic talent and highly skilled workers.

Every year, our colleges and universities graduate thousands of foreign students who have been educated in our world-class university system. But instead of putting that talent to work in the American economy, we send them home to places like China and India to compete against us. In other words, in many cases, other nations end up benefitting more from our education system than the United States does.

The Senate immigration reform bill would end this debacle. After educating the world’s brightest and most innovative minds, we will no longer send them home; we will instead staple green cards to their diplomas.

We will also expand the highly skilled H1-B visa program from the current 65,000 to a program with a new floor of 110,000, a ceiling of 180,000, and an additional 25,000 exemptions for persons who graduate from a U.S. university with an advanced degree in science, technology, engineering or math. In order to accomplish these necessary moves to a more merit-based immigration system, we eliminate certain categories of family preferences that have allowed for chain migration and completely eliminate the diversity visa lottery, among other reforms.

These measures, which we hope to improve on as the bill moves through the legislative process, are at the heart of our efforts to modernize our legal immigration system to help meet the needs of our 21st century economy, make it more merit and skill-based than ever, and allow our economy to remain a dynamic global leader. They are also the kinds of reforms that will make immigration reform a net benefit for our economy and our federal budget – the way immigration has always been a net benefit for America.

For example, studies show that 40 percent of American Fortune 500 firms were started by immigrants, as are roughly half of the most successful startups in Silicon Valley. This doesn’t just lead to corner-office, executive-level jobs; these generate jobs across the income spectrum that help Americans rise to the middle class and beyond.

With the reforms being offered, the benefits to our economy and our people will come from the infusion of entrepreneurs, innovators, investors, skilled workers and others driven by the desire to build a better life for themselves and their children. And when our economy needs foreign workers to fill labor shortages, our modernized system will ensure that the future flow of workers is manageable, traceable, fair to American workers, and in line with our economy’s needs.

Let there be no doubt that immigration will always be a powerful source of American strength. While some worry that the immigrants that will most benefit from the Senate’s legislation are mostly poor, with limited education and destined to be government dependents, history has proven something else. It has demonstrated the power of the American free enterprise system to lift people from the circumstances of their birth and into more prosperous and stable lives for themselves and their children. Over two centuries of life in America have demonstrated this to be true.

Of course, there are legitimate questions some have raised about why this is now the Senate’s priority.  During the time I’ve been working on immigration reform legislation, I’ve been asked why we are dealing
with this issue at this time, with some questioning the need of dealing with it at all with so many other pressing concerns like our growing debt, millions of unemployed or underemployed Americans, and the persistent threat of terrorism that recently manifested itself on our soil.

It’s absolutely true that these are the defining issues of our time that, frankly, should have been addressed a long time ago.

But the reality of immigration in America today is that, even if we didn’t have some 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. today, we would still have to fix our broken legal immigration system.

The immigration system we have today is a disaster. It’s de facto amnesty that threatens our security and our sovereignty. But even worse, it’s a job killer.

The immigration proposal being considered by the Senate is not perfect. And I believe we can improve it with the ideas of people like Orrin Hatch who care deeply about fixing the immigration system to work better for American workers.

As the immigration debate continues, it is important that we use today’s hearing and every other avenue we have to fix the broken immigration system we have. In doing so, we can move towards a strong, effective system that will secure the border, encourage job creation for Americans, and ensure America remains a dynamic global economic leader.

[Image: Office of Sen. Marco Rubio]