When highly skilled workers in the tech sector are denied employment visas, it is not just the company seeking to hire them or the prospective employee who suffer — it is other U.S.-born workers.
That’s according to a study by The Partnership for a New American Economy, a nonprofit group co-chaired by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other U.S. business leaders and mayors.
The study concludes that the large number of work visas denied slowed the expansion of tech sectors in Nashville and other major cities, curtailing job and wage growth for American tech workers.
Nashville ranks among the top 25 metro areas by the number of potential jobs lost. An average of 373 H-1B visas were denied in 2007 and 2008, according to the study.
As a result, Nashville missed out on creating as many as 1,259 tech jobs for U.S.-born workers in 2009 and 2010, according to the report.
“Contrary to what some believe, high-skilled immigrants don’t displace U.S.-born workers in computer fields,” the report said. “Instead, their presence spurs growth and creates more jobs — and higher wages — for native-born workers in the local tech industry.”
Conducted by University of California, Davis, economics professor Giovanni Peri, the study found U.S.-born, college-educated computer workers in Nashville missed out on as much as $11.8 million in additional wages.
The study estimates that the more than 200 U.S. metropolitan areas studied missed out on creating as many as 231,224 tech jobs in 2009 and 2010 because of the 178,000 visa rejections in the prior two years.
The report comes as companies nationwide grapple with the growing need for workers skilled in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.
In Middle Tennessee, there were 872 tech-related job openings in the last quarter of 2013, according to the Nashville Technology Council. More than 778,000 new computer and mathematical jobs are expected to be created in the U.S. by 2020, according to a 2012 Labor Department report.
The H-1B visa program is capped at 85,000 visas for private-sector workers each year. In four of the last eight years — 2007, 2008, 2013 and 2014 — a visa lottery was held because so many applications were filed, and tens of thousands were denied.
In 2014, for example, about 87,500 applications were rejected through the lottery, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.
The study examined 2007 and 2008, relying on data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Labor Department and the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. It determined that visa denials were especially harmful to U.S.-born workers without a bachelor’s degree, who often serve in supporting roles to highly skilled tech workers.
“We have very self-defeating immigration policies that, in many cases, send home students who have gotten degrees from our universities,” said Angela Marek Zeitlin, director of research at The Partnership for a New American Economy. “Computer industries are a huge part of the future of our economy. We want to have an immigration system that allows our tech sectors to succeed, that allows Tennesseee tech companies to continue to expand and have jobs here on U.S. soil.”
Linda Rose, the managing member of Rose Immigration Law Firm in Nashville, represents Middle Tennessee companies seeking to hire or extend contracts for H-1B workers. She argues that Congress should allow U.S. companies to receive more visas.
Rose said companies typically try to hire U.S.-born workers first, given the costs of applying for H-1B visas, which can run into the thousands of dollars. But she said they often need to look to those born outside the U.S. to find certain skill sets, she said.
“They just cannot fill all the positions with U.S. workers,” Rose said. “Without enough workers to keep the system running smoothly, they can’t continue to provide all the services and products that they mean to be providing. It impacts the economy all around.”
Critics of H-1B expansion argue that employers pursue foreign-born workers because they can pay them less than American-born workers. Rose said employers must meet minimum wage targets based on an employee’s profession, degree, experience and location.