Where Are The Best Computer Programmers?

Our prosperity in the United States is built on the renegade, risk-taking spirit of innovation and invention. A new business is an expression of belief – the confidence that “we can make it” in the United States. Historically, wave after wave of immigrants have put their trust into the American dream that anything is possible in the United States for those who put in the effort. For example, more than half of the companies in Silicon Valley today began as immigrant-founded startups.

Paul Graham is a computer scientist, a venture capitalist, and an internationally-acclaimed writer. He is the author of several programming books, and his blog deals with a number of issues related to computer programming. Graham recently asked – and then answered – the question, “Where are the best computer programmers?” The answer may surprise you, because it’s an impeccably sound argument for comprehensive immigration reform.

U.S.-based high-tech firms say that they need comprehensive immigration reform because they can’t find enough good computer programmers in the United States. Opponents of immigration reform insist that we should simply train more of the people who were born here to be computer programmers instead of letting immigrants take those jobs. Who’s right? Paul Graham has no problem answering the question bluntly. He says the high-tech firms are right and the opponents of immigration are wrong.


Graham says the high-tech firms are right because the United States comprises less than five percent of world’s people. If the traits and characteristics that make a person a superlative computer programmer are evenly distributed – and there’s every reason to believe that they are – then more than 95 percent of the world’s potentially great computer programmers are born outside of the United States.

“What the anti-immigration people don’t understand,” Paul Graham writes, “is that there is a huge variation in ability between competent programmers and exceptional ones, and while you can train people to be competent, you can’t train them to be exceptional. Exceptional programmers have an aptitude for and interest in programming that is not merely the product of training.”


One persistent theme of immigration opponents is that high-tech firms want to hire immigrants so that they can drive salaries downward. However, current immigration law already ensures that the salaries paid to immigrants in fields like computer programming are comparable to the salaries of U.S.-born workers doing the same job. Why are high-tech companies looking around the world for programmers if it’s not to keep salaries down?

The truth has little to do with salaries. There simply aren’t enough good programmers right here in the United States. “It would be great,” Graham writes, “if more Americans were trained as programmers, but no amount of training can flip a ratio as overwhelming as 95 to 5.” He adds, “A country with only a few percent of the world’s population will be exceptional in some field only if there are a lot of immigrants working in it.”

Paul Graham admits that recognizing the need for comprehensive immigration reform is only half the battle. Once lawmakers are agreed that comprehensive immigration reform is imperative, how does the U.S. then make itself attractive to the world’s best computer programmers? Graham suggests that we make the U.S. attractive to programmers simply by letting them work here. If more programmers are here, he reasons, even more will want to be here. Graham writes, “good people like good colleagues.”

Although he focuses on programmers, Paul Graham admits that the United States also needs to attract the very best designers, electrical engineers, and others falling into the category he calls “digital talent.” As they have in the past, immigrants bring ambition, a work ethic, and diverse cultural perspectives that generate U.S. economic growth and innovation. By welcoming immigrants, the United States gains a huge economic and trade advantage over other nations – like China and Japan – with more restrictive immigration laws.

Unfortunately, however, without comprehensive immigration reform, the annual cap on H-1B visas for highly-skilled foreign professionals will remain at 65,000, with another 20,000 set aside for foreign professionals with post-graduate degrees from U.S. universities. If you are a U.S.-based employer who hires international employees, obtain the immigration help you’ll need from an experienced Ohio immigration attorney.


A good immigration lawyer can help businesses of any size with H-1B visa petitions and other work visas, I-9 compliance, and the big complicated mess that we call “immigration law.” The next filing period for H-1Bs begins next April 1, so the time for employers to get started is now. H-1B visas are hard – but not impossible – to obtain, and even if an employer obtains an H-1B visa in April, the visa recipient can’t begin working until October 2017. Fortunately, there may be some alternatives:

• An employee of a multinational corporation who wishes to work for a U.S.-based parent, branch, or subsidiary corporation in a managerial or executive capacity, or who has specialized knowledge about the company, may qualify for an L-1 intracompany transferee visa.

• E-1 visas are for traders and E-2 visas are for investors. Only nationals of countries that have commercial treaties with the United States qualify for E visas.

• The E-3 Australian specialty worker visa is comparable to the H-1B, but only Australian nationals qualify.

• Professionals from Canada and Mexico may qualify for TN professional visas.

• The H-1B1 visa for citizens of Singapore or Chile is similar to the H-1B. 5,400 are set aside annually for citizens of Singapore, while 1,400 are reserved for Chileans.

• Individuals with extraordinary abilities and significant accomplishments in certain fields may qualify for the O-1 visa.

• The J-1 visa is for individuals working or training in the U.S. in particular career fields.

Many H-1B-eligible international workers will qualify for at least one of these visas. Scores of U.S.-based employers choose one or more of these alternatives to the H-1B visa and are pleased with the results. Every visa takes time, and there’s inevitably some wrinkle or complication in the process, so employers should discuss their visa needs and related concerns with an experienced Ohio immigration attorney as soon as those needs and concerns emerge.