Taking Action to Attract the World’s Top Talented Professionals

Today, the Obama Administration announced new steps to make it easier for highly skilled workers and talented researchers from other countries to contribute to our economy and ultimately become Americans. These measures are part of administrative reforms first announced in 2012, and reflect our commitment to attracting and retaining highly-skilled immigrants, continuing our economic recovery, and encouraging job creation.

Specifically, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a proposed rule that would—for the first time—allow work authorization for the spouses of H-1B workers who have begun the process of applying for a green card through their employers. Once enacted, this proposed rule would empower these spouses to put their own education and skills to work for the country that they and their families now call home.  This rule change was requested in a “We the People” petition to the White House.

At the same time, DHS is also proposing another new rule to make it easier for outstanding professors and researchers in other countries to demonstrate their eligibility for the EB-1 visa, a type of green card reserved for the world’s best and brightest. Just as great athletes and performers are already able to provide a range of evidence to support their petition for an EB-1, professors and researchers would be able to present diverse achievements such as groundbreaking patents or prestigious scientific grants.

These measures build on continuing Administration efforts to streamline existing systems, eliminate inefficiency, and increase transparency, such as by the launch of Entrepreneur Pathways, an online resource center that gives immigrant entrepreneurs an intuitive way to navigate opportunities to start and grow a business in the United States.

These actions promise to unleash more of the extraordinary contributions that immigrants have always made to America’s economy. By some estimates, immigration was responsible for one-third of the explosive growth in patenting in past decades, and these innovations contributed to increasing U.S. GDP by 2.4 percent. Immigrants represent 50 percent of PhDs working in math and computer science and 57 percent of PhDs working in engineering, and one study found that 26 percent of all U.S.-based Nobel laureates over the past 50 years were foreign born. 

Immigrants are also overrepresented in the ranks of America’s entrepreneurs, as they are more than twice as likely as the native-born to start a business in the United States. Immigrants started one of every four small businesses and high-tech startups across America, and more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies—from GE and Ford to Google and Yahoo!—were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants. 

While today’s executive actions are an important step in the right direction, only Congress can offer permanent solutions to fix our broken immigration system and ensure that immigration pathways for foreign entrepreneurs and talented workers are clear and consistent, and better reflect today's business realities.

Last June, the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill that would significantly grow our economy and shrink the deficit. It is imperative that the House of Representatives do its part to send a bill to the President’s desk, as the costs of inaction are considerable. Among the many other benefits of commonsense immigrant reform, we need legislation that will keep talented scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs here in America instead of compelling them to go back home and compete against us.

When President Obama and I met last month with the new Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship, these top entrepreneurs spoke passionately about the contributions of immigrants and the importance of immigration reform for growing our economy. This group of successful American businesspeople who have committed to sharing their expertise to help develop the next generation of entrepreneurs at home and abroad agreed that we undermine our economic competitiveness when we make it harder, not easier, for talented immigrants to stay here and contribute to our economy.

You can watch the video featuring inaugural Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship below, or on YouTube

Penny Pritzker is Secretary of Commerce
Related Topics: Jobs, Economy, Immigration
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