How President-Elect Trump Can Spur More Growth​ Through Tech

November 14, 2016, 1:00 AM UTC
Morning view of silicon valley
View of silicon valley after sunrise and water in distance.
Frank Chen — Getty Images

It’s often said that candidates campaign in poetry and govern in prose. And while no one would characterize the 2016 campaign as poetry, President-Elect Trump now faces the herculean task of translating his wide-reaching campaign promises into a feasible governing agenda.

President-Elect Trump prides himself as an expert at ‘the art of the deal.’ And while he’s new to politics, the rules of deal making are universal: to achieve his legislative agenda, our new president must be willing to negotiate and stitch together unlikely coalitions in pursuit of a common cause. This type of coalition-building is challenging in any environment. In our deeply divided 50-50 nation, the mountain President-Elect Trump must climb to fulfill his campaign promises is dauntingly steep.

Many of President-Elect Trump’s voters express concern about being left out of the 21st Century tech-based economy and have not seen innovation as a powerful job-creator or a force for good. Their fears are valid, and Washington with Silicon Valley must do a better job of broadening the promise of technology so that so many disaffected Americans no longer are left behind.

So here’s a first step: reform the H-1B visa program to allow American companies to hire the high-skilled workers they need to grow and remain competitive. While the broader immigration debate will be heated and highly partisan, reforming the H-1B immigration program enjoys strong bipartisan support. President-Elect Trump’s stance on this issue is not yet defined. This creates a further opportunity to properly address this policy issue.

America’s H-1B visa program is designed to permit U.S. companies to recruit workers from abroad to fill highly specialized jobs here in America. Far different from the more wide-ranging worker visa program, H-1Bs are specifically used to fill specific jobs that companies can’t find enough American workers to fill. Particularly for technology firms, H-1B visas are a lifeline to the global talent pool of engineers, who can build products and create economic growth here in America, rather than in other countries.

Evidence shows that jobs for Americans would increase and wages would rise under the visa program. According to a 2012 report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce studying foreign students with a STEM degree hired by American companies, each H-1B employee creates 2.62 additional jobs for American workers. According to another report from McKinsey in 2011, “in recent years, the supply of [STEM] graduates has been sluggish at a time when demand for them has been rising…the shortage of deep analytical talent will be a global phenomenon…either through immigration or through companies offshoring to meet their needs.”

Yet despite the overwhelming benefits of the H-1B visa program for America’s economy, the program’s annual cap is stunningly low at just 65,000 per year. That quota may have been sufficient 30 years ago, but it’s just a drop in the bucket compared with today’s demand for high-skilled workers. In fact, each year the cap is filled by lottery and reached within a few days, meaning that most companies do not receive anywhere near the visas they request.

Reforming the program would be straightforward. In fact, bipartisan legislation has already been introduced in Congress that would double the annual H-1B cap and allow it to climb based on demand. Unfortunately, despite broad support in both parties, because the program has been unfairly linked to the larger immigration debate, enough members of Congress have held back from fighting for its passage.

President-Elect Trump was elected with virtually no connection to America’s technology sector. Convincing Congressional Republicans to support H-1B reform as a job-creator and economic imperative would be a savvy and much-needed first step. This is a tremendous leadership opportunity for the new administration.

Alan H. Fleischmann is Founder, President & CEO of Laurel Strategies, a global business advisory and strategic communications firm for leaders, CEOs and their C-suite.

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