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International Integration: How the H-1B Visa Program Affects Our Job Market

August 3, 2011

The H-1B visa program, which enables US employers to hire highly skilled foreign workers for three years, is “a lightning rod for a very heated debate,” says Harvard Business School professor William Kerr.


The controversial question is does the H-1B program help or harm American workers? Proponents of the program claim it creates jobs, and is thus a good thing. Opponents say it steals jobs away from native Americans, and is thus unpatriotic. So, Professor Kerr set out to uncover the truth. But he didn’t just look at the H-1B program’s effect on job creation; he also wanted to know how an influx of immigrant workers would affect our ability to innovate.


To determine whether an increase in H-1B visas led to an increase in innovation, Professor Kerr and his colleagues examined patent applications and grants from 1995 to 2008. By referring to each new applicant’s surname, the researchers could extrapolate their ethnic origins and identify the impact these international immigrants were having on the marketplace.


What did they find out? According to Kerr in this article, “US innovation increases with letting in more immigrant scientists and engineers, primarily due to the contributions of these immigrant scientists and engineers… but we don’t see much impact, positive or negative, on American Anglo-Saxon workers…”


In short, “the H-1B program seems to have no overall effect on the number of jobs held by American-born scientists and engineers, nor does it affect the number of patents from inventors who have Anglo-Saxon names.”


While Professor Kerr’s research is far from foolproof, it clearly indicates that the more international intellectuals we hire here in the States, the better off we are as a society. So all the narrow-minded racists can rest assured that no immigrants are stealing their job opportunities.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 3, 2011 5:29 pm

    The same consideration could be given to the international students here in the US who’re on a Student Visa. They’re mostly graduate students in our Master’s and Doctoral programs who have benefited from top notch education but upon graduation are expected, actually required, to leave the country taking with them the knowledge and skills acquired here in the U.S. By extending the offer of a work visa to these graduates, we can benefit from the scientific and technological innovations they are able to offer rather than lose them to another country. If we want to remain competitiveness, we can’t afford to turn our backs on the very people whom we’ve educated and trained.

  2. August 4, 2011 3:21 am

    Very good point, Jasmin. It doesn’t make sense to spend the time and resources educating international students if they are forced to take their expertise elsewhere after they graduate.

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