In 1848, a young immigrant from Scotland and his family arrived in Alleghany, Pennsylvania. It was only the second time in the young man’s life that he had ever left his home of Dunfermline, Scotland. The first time was a trip with his family to see Queen Victoria in Edinburgh.
Despite the arduous journey, the young immigrant and his family were tremendously thankful to have been given a chance to restart their lives in America. The young immigrant eventually found work in Pennsylvania’s bustling textile industry as a bobbin boy. This was a dangerous job that earned him a meager salary of $1.20 for working 12 hours a day, six days a week.
The young immigrant thrived in his role, which was impressive given the exhausting and hazardous working conditions. He eventually found his way into a role as a telegraph messenger boy, which came with a pay raise that allowed him to earn $2.50 a week and work in more favorable conditions.
It was during this time that the young immigrant accelerated his passion for learning and reading. This passion was further stimulated when local businessman, Colonel James Anderson opened up his own personal library of 400 books to the young men who worked at the telegraph company. This simple act of kindness would eventually inspire the young man to dedicate his future wealth to causes that would advance opportunities for education in the United States and around the world.
Over time, the young immigrant continued to advance professionally. He learned the ins and outs of business through a series of mentors and roles in various rapidly-evolving industries due to the rapid advancement of technologies brought about by the Industrial Revolution. He eventually founded his own steel business after foreseeing the rise of the railroad industry and its considerable demand for steel.
While on a trip to England in 1872, the young immigrant — now much older, wiser, and considerably more wealthy — learned of the steel-making process known as the Bessemer process. Recognizing the process’s significant advantages for mass-producing steel at a much lower cost, the immigrant returned to the states and implemented the process in his own steel mills.
On March 1st, 1901, the immigrant sold his steel business and, in the process, became the wealthiest man in America. He proceeded to dedicate the rest of his life to scholarly and philanthropic ventures.
The immigrant I am talking about is Andrew Carnegie.
He’s the namesake of Carnegie Hall and Carnegie Mellon University, and he was key to establishing our nation’s system of libraries.
His business, Carnegie Steel, eventually became a part of U.S steel, which employed over 340,000 people at its peak.
Data shows that immigration has been a key conduit of America’s growth as the world’s global superpower and a nation of technological innovation (below).
Like Andrew Carnegie, many immigrants leave their home countries for a chance at a better life in the United States, which is a journey we know as the American Dream.
With the suspending of the H-1B visa program, that dream is now being threatened by our nation’s current administration.
The H-1B visa program allows for companies in the United States to temporarily employ foreign workers in occupations that require the theoretical and practical application of a body of highly-specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher in the specific specialty, or it’s equivalent.
Nearly half of America’s Fortune 500 businesses were founded by immigrants. That means immigrants created businesses that employ over 13.5 million people and drive over $6 trillion in revenue. Take an even closer look at the data and you’ll find that 44 out of the 87 private businesses valued at over $1 billion were founded by immigrants. Each of those businesses, on average, created 760 jobs.
When it comes to the technology businesses whose products we have grown to love (or loathe), immigrants have founded 60% of the most highly-valued tech companies and employ nearly 2 million people.
Can you imagine if these founders never came to America in the first place?
I am not telling the story of Andrew Carnegie to glorify the life of a robber baron. Andrew Carnegie was not a perfect businessman and conducted business in ways that we would consider unethical — and even illegal, today.
I use his story to illustrate the importance of immigration and how it has shaped our country in so many net positive ways.
Suspending the H-1B visa program means the United States potentially loses out on the next Elon Musk, Eric Yuan, Collison Brothers, or Jensen Huang.
One may argue that our current administration is suspending the visas to protect American jobs. They believe that given the cataclysmic economic downtown that COVID-19 caused, the suspension of the H-1B visa is necessary in order to protect opportunities for American citizens.
But it’s not, because it is hard to protect jobs for American citizens that many American citizens don’t have the skills for in the first place. According to a report of the US Department of Labor from 2015, there are over 8 million STEM job openings in the United States (likely a lot more now). Given that the United States only produces a little under 600,000 STEM graduates a year, closing the STEM talent gap is key to technological and medical innovation.
Simply put: the United States alone doesn’t produce enough talent each year in order to fill all those openings.
Mhhmm… if only there were some sort of visa program that would help with that…
So two questions for my readers:
How can local and state tech ecosystems better support the H-1B program?
How can the United States simultaneously produce more STEM graduates while recruiting top-tier tech talent from around the globe?
We are a country built on the immigration stack. Suspending world-class talent from entering our country will not only impede our innovation and further starve local tech ecosystems of talent, but it can also cause our nation to lose its competitive edge.
Thoughts? Feelings? Shoot me an email and let’s discuss