THE BLOG
02/25/2014 02:38 pm ET Updated Apr 27, 2014

Why New York's Technology Sector Needs Immigration Reform

It takes techies to build tech and the booming New York technology economy needs more people trained and skilled in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to fuel its continued growth. Tech/Information is now the number two driver of NYC's economy, second only to finance/real-Estate. In fact, a recent analysis found that between 2007 and 2012, the number of tech/information jobs in NYC grew by 11 percent, or some 26,000 jobs, adding $5.8 billion in additional wages to the economy. Only with an adequate supply of tech talent can this growth continue.

The New York Technology Council (NYTECH) believes that building the New York tech workforce of the future requires action on many fronts including providing more and better STEM education at all levels and attracting talent from other regions of the United States and from abroad. The latter, attracting talent from abroad, can provide a significant boost to our economy, particularly in the short-term. Yet standing in the way of attracting such tech talent from abroad are our antiquated immigration laws.

United States immigration policy has been largely unchanged since the Immigration Act of 1990, but the world has changed significantly since then. In 1990 the World Wide Web was just a proposal, there were no smartphones, the pace of technological innovation was much slower than it is today, innovation often took place in large centralized enterprise or academic research facilities rather than in emerging startups, and the need for specialized technology skills was significantly less than it is today.

Updating our immigration laws to reflect the needs of the American economy in 2014 is critical to help maintain U.S. economic leadership in today's increasingly competitive world. We strongly urge Congress to enact tech-related immigration reform, either on a stand-alone basis or as part of a larger comprehensive immigration reform package.

The following are our recommendations for what should be included in our new immigration laws and policies:

  • More visas for those with technology skills -- By 2018, America will face a projected shortfall of more than 200,000 workers with advanced degrees in STEM fields. Immigrants can help fill this gap.
  • More visas for U.S. educated students graduating with advanced degrees in STEM fields -- For example, more than half of all Ph.D.s graduating in STEM fields from U.S. universities are foreign-born, yet current immigration laws make it difficult or impossible for them to stay in the U.S. after graduation and help fill the STEM shortage.
  • More visas for entrepreneurs looking to start companies in the U.S. -- Immigrants have consistently demonstrated a strong entrepreneurial spirit and propensity to create new businesses. Immigrants are more than twice as likely as native-born citizens to start new businesses with 28 percent of all U.S. companies founded in 2011 had immigrant founders -- despite immigrants being roughly 13 percent of the population.
  • Market-based caps for H1B visas for temporary high-tech workers that adjust to the demands of the economy -- In 2013, applications for H1B visas exceeded the cap limit within the first five business days during which applications were accepted for the fiscal year (FY) 2014. These applications came from companies in need of skilled workers, not from prospective workers.
We are hopeful that Congress will address this very important issue in its current session.

While immigration reform can only be accomplished at the national level, we encourage Mayor de Blasio to continue to speak out in support of immigration reform and to emphasize the importance of this reform to the continued growth of the New York City economy.