Thune Statement on Immigrants in America’s Innovation Economy

May 8, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator John Thune (R-SD), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, delivered the following prepared remarks at today’s “The Role of Immigrants in America’s Innovation Economy” hearing:

Chairman Rockefeller, thank you for holding today’s hearing on “The Role of Immigrants in America’s Innovation Economy.” I would also like to extend a warm welcome to our witnesses, some of whom I understand are testifying before Congress for the first time today.

Immigrants have been an undeniably important part of our nation’s economic success story, especially in the technology industry. In fact, according to a study by the Kauffman Foundation, over 20 percent of high tech companies in the U.S. have been founded by immigrants. Immigrants created revolutionary companies like Google, Intel, and eBay. It would be hard to imagine modern American life without these innovative companies. 

It is worrying, however, that for the first time in decades, the growth rate of immigrant-founded startups nationwide has stagnated, perhaps even declined. Our nation is currently engaged in a global battle for jobs and economic prosperity. Many of our foreign economic competitors are taking aggressive action to lure the brightest minds – including scores educated here in the U.S. – to their countries – not just for the talent they bring individually, but for the jobs they help to create and sustain. That is why it’s more important than ever before that we have in place policies that will keep the United States in first place as the world’s top economy.

We can win this battle for jobs and talent by ensuring that the United States continues to be the innovation capital of the world. We should have a competitive tax policy that encourages rather than discourages investment and growth. We must continue to identify new export markets and fight to increase market access and reduce tariffs. And we need to examine our regulatory framework so that job creators have regulatory certainty and are not unnecessarily burdened. 

In addition to these key goals, our country needs an updated high skills immigration policy that allows the brightest minds to come to our country and become entrepreneurs. The fact that the Commerce Committee is holding this hearing reflects the fact that immigration policy is a multi-faceted issue, and that we must consider the issue from all perspectives if we are going to get the policy right. 

Our panel today is composed of people from a variety of backgrounds and demonstrates the struggle of the private sector to obtain and keep talented people. I look forward to hearing about the experiences and the challenges high skills immigrants face as they seek to found companies, create jobs, and help grow our nation’s economy.

Before I close, I wanted to take a moment to mention a proposal to expand high skills immigration known as the Immigration Innovation Act, otherwise known as the “I-Squared” Act, a bill introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch. I, along with many other members of this Committee, are cosponsors of this important bill. This bipartisan legislation seeks to change the H-1B visa program by, among other things, increasing the annual allocation of H-1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000. The bill also includes a novel “market-based escalator” that allows the supply of H-1B visas to increase or decrease to adequately meet the market’s demand. I believe the I-Squared Act addresses the immediate need to provide American employers with greater access to high-skilled workers, and puts in place a sustainable, longer-term policy that should help us avoid repeated, short-term fixes. 

Of course, today’s hearing occurs in the shadow of a much larger debate about reform of our immigration system and the comprehensive proposal put forward by eight of our colleagues, including Senator Rubio. As the Judiciary Committee prepares to markup that legislation, and as we all look ahead to likely floor consideration, I hope our Committee’s hearing will inform key aspects of the ongoing immigration debate. 

Thank you to the witnesses for joining us today. I commend each of you for engaging with this Committee on a critical issue to our nation’s future, and I look forward to your testimony.