Would you want to rely on someone without the proper education and training to design the IT network used around the clock by your company? Of course not. And on the occasion there is a hiccup in the system, wouldn’t you agree that the techs getting everything up and running again is more important than where they were trained or even where they were born?
As the news is filled with stories about the impact of illegal immigrants crossing the U.S. southern border, it’s important to make the distinction about the positive contributions made today by immigrants working in our technology industry, especially in Arizona.
According to the new report “Closing the Skills Gap: The Data Behind Talent Shortage, High-Skilled Immigration and Economic Impact” by TechNet, the national, bipartisan network of innovation economy CEOs and senior executives, nearly a fifth of Arizona’s workforce in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are immigrants. That means my example using an IT network is just that: an example of a larger group with significant influence.
And there is even more to this than just our direct purchases of their products and services. Immigration has positive implications for long-term economic growth, innovation, workforce development, diversity and aggregate incomes. A separate 2019 study revealed high-skilled immigrants have a two-fold impact on long-term growth: amplified innovation and expansions in human capital accumulation. That means we all benefit.
Helping achieve these types of results is the H-1B visa program that permits people who wish to perform services in a specialty occupation to enter and work in the United States. It’s a select group that make the cut. Phoenix, for example, had just over 1% of the applicants admitted in 2020. But consider that 69% of them held advanced degrees while the average annual salary of an H1B visa recipient was $92,631.
The skills they offer come at a critical time. With an increase in new technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain, tech-savvy employees are in demand. And our nation can’t keep up with just a native-born workforce. A study conducted in 2019 by Wiley Education Services and Future Workplace found 64% percent of human resources leaders reported their companies have a skills gap — an increase from 52% in 2018.
TechNet’s report showed 64% of U.S. employers report a skills gap at their company. Failing to reduce the gap could reduce productivity by 51%, depress economic growth by 42% and reduce innovation by 43%.
Closer to home, the TechNet report findings included:
- Arizona ranked eighth in net tech employment jobs added in 2020 and is expected to have a 20% increase in tech job postings between 2020 and 2030.
- However, hirings must grow by at least 27.1% in order to maintain current tech employment levels.
- Currently, 76% of employers here express having difficulty locating individuals with sufficient skills to fill positions.
To help shore up the Arizona economy, the entire immigrant population already play a large role by contributing more than $7.1 billion in taxes. But as you can see, that’s just a short-term piece of the puzzle
Despite the positive effects of immigration, current H-1B visa guidelines that include caps have remained unchanged over the past 14 years despite the growth of the U.S. economy. However, there is bipartisan support in Congress to reform U.S. immigration policy and increase high-skilled immigration.
I encourage you to let your lawmakers know that it is time for updating the guidelines. We can’t let our destiny be controlled by a gap that widens day by day.
Steve Zylstra is president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council.
Register for the Council’s upcoming Phoenix and Tucson tech events and Optics Valley optics + photonics events.