Immigrant Impact: H-1B Crisis Shows Demand for Immigrant Professionals

Immigrant Impact: H-1B Crisis Shows Demand for Immigrant Professionals

by Steve Tobocman, Global Detroit // 

Tel Ganesan’s enthusiasm is infectious. As the founder and CEO of Kyyba, a Detroit-area software, automotive electronics, and telematics staffing firm, Tel provides over 500 jobs and generates $40 million of revenues on an annual basis. “All I wanted to do when I came to this country was to pursue the American dream,” Tel has said. In addition to his own business, Tel is a Board Member for Global Detroit and the Board Chair for TiE Detroit, a local entrepreneurship network connected to TiE Global, the world’s largest entrepreneurship network with roots in Silicon Valley started by a group of successful entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and senior professionals with roots in the Indus region. 

Tel Ganesan, President + CEO, Kyyba; Board Chair, TiE Detroit

Tel came to Detroit to attain a graduate engineering degree at Wayne State University and worked for 13 years after graduate for Chrysler using his student visa and an H-1B visa for highly-educated foreign professionals in “specialty occupations” that require at least a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent.

On Thursday, April 7th, the federal government closed the window for U.S. employers to file applications for H-1B visas for workers who could fill unmet talent needs that are limiting those employers’ ability to grow their business and compete on a global scale. In April 2015, the federal government received 233,000 H-1B applications from U.S. employers for 85,000 available visas.

On April 12th, immigrant economic development leaders across the Rust Belt will join in the second annual Welcoming Economies Global (WE Global) Network Joint Day of Action to explain how the H-1B crisis negatively impacts local economies in America’s heartland. WE Global Network is a relatively new initiative comprised of more than 20 regional economic development initiatives from across the Rust Belt working to tap into the economic development opportunities created by immigrants. WE Global is designed to strengthen the work, maximize the impact, and sustain the efforts of individual local initiatives that welcome, retain, and empower immigrant communities as valued contributors to local economies. WE Global Network is a project of Welcoming America in partnership with Global Detroit.

The importance of talent is not merely a Silicon Valley issue. For instance, according to a 2015 Brookings Institution report, Metro Detroit ranks 8th in the nation in H-1B approvals—more than Seattle, Boston, the Research Triangle, Houston, or Atlanta—and 9th in the nation in the density of H-1B workers (comparing the number of H-1B approvals to the total employed population in the metro) with more than twice the national average. The WE Global Network footprint encompasses 44% (22 of 50) of the top 50 metros in H-1B density and 32% (16 of 50) of the top 50 metros by total number of H-1B approvals.

It is clear that federal immigration reform along the lines of the bipartisan bill that passed the U.S. Senate in 2013 not only would help energize our regional economy and would give the federal government new tools to curb H-1B abuses. Unfortunately, the nation’s political system is in complete gridlock.

Yet, there is cause for optimism. WE Global Network members are blazing new ground and making significant progress in the last few years in building innovative local infrastructure to make the region a leader in global talent attraction, retention, and integration that can help the region’s employers to address the crisis for skilled workers today.

Two areas of progress are in international student retention and highly-skilled immigrant integration. Today over a million international students study at U.S. colleges and universities, comprising nearly 5% of all U.S. higher education students. International students are significantly more likely to major in STEM-related and business fields, especially at the graduate student level. The numbers are simply startling. International students comprise 70.3% of all the graduate students in electrical engineering in America, 63.2% in computer science, and more than 40% in the vast majority of other STEM majors.

International Graduate Students by STEM Percentage

Given the talent needs of global employers in these areas, WE Global members have launched the nation’s first international student retention programs outside of the university, connecting employers with unmet talent needs with some of the world’s most talented and ambitious workers. Utilizing the Optional Practical Training (OPT) portion of an international student’s visa can enable employers to hire STEM graduates for 36 months without having to file for visa sponsorship. This is a talent pool that is too valuable to ignore. It is the talent pool that originally brought talented business leaders like Tel Ganesan and countless others to our region.

High-skilled immigrant integration efforts focus on the 1.8 million work-authorized immigrants and refugees with college degrees (in fact, half of them have graduate degrees) who are under-employed or unemployed (at 1.5 times the rate of similarly educated native born workers). Working with national partners like IMPRINT, Upwardly Global, and WES Global Talent Bridge, the Midwest is a hotbed of innovation at better integrating this talent pool into the workforce. The Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians has developed licensing and credentialing guides to help these workers transition into their professions. The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) has over 45 such guides and is on pace to help place 70 such immigrants this year—expanding a pilot with Upwardly Global that produced average salary increases of $42,000 for such placements. St. Louis Mosaic and Global Detroit are helping match immigrants to volunteer connectors to help them develop their professional networks.

The opportunities and challenges surrounding high-skilled global talent are not just issues in Silicon Valley and the coasts, but are at the core of America’s economic future in regions from Buffalo to St. Louis and Minneapolis to Philadelphia. While federal action remains stalled in the Congress, the 20 WE Global cities have innovated the process for attracting, retaining, and integrating high-skilled global talent. This not only provides our local companies with a competitive advantage, but positions the region for rapid growth should the Congressional gridlock on immigration ever get untangled.

How can you help spread the word about the competitive advantage that immigrant talent offers your region? Be sure to share this graphic and get the word out on Twitter!  #ImmigrantImpact

International 1

  • Foreign #H1B workers fill a critical need in the US economy #ImmigrantImpact
  • #Immigrant #Innovators are growing American companies + creating jobs #H1B #ImmigrantImpact
  • FACT: International talent fills unmet needs of local employers #ImmigrantImpact #H1B
  • FACT: #H1B workers raise wages by encouraging innovation, boosting the local economy, + increasing productivity #ImmigrantImpact

Is your community a WE Global member? Learn how to get involved.


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About the Author

Steve-TobocmanSteve Tobocman has spearheaded Global Detroit since 2009. In addition to serving as the Director of Global Detroit, Steve also co-directs the Michigan Political Leadership Program at Michigan State University, one of the nation’s premiere bipartisan political leadership training programs. He is the Managing Partner at New Solutions Group, LLC, a consulting firm in Detroit that provides innovative and creative solutions for the common good and that has extensive experience in community economic development, urban policies, and, of course, immigrant integration and economic development.



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