Stuart Anderson tallied the numbers several years ago in a report appropriately titled The Multiplier Effect. Key quote (emphasis mine):
Seven of the top 10 award winners at the 2004 Intel Science Talent Search were immigrants or their children. (In 2003, three of the top four awardees were foreign-born.) In fact, in the 2004 Intel Science Talent Search, more children (18) have parents who entered the country on H-1B (professional) visas than parents born in the United States (16). To place this finding in perspective, note that new H-1B visa holders each year represent less than 0.04 percent of the U.S. population, illustrating the substantial gain in human capital that the United States receives from the entry of these individuals and their offspring.This isn't some fluke of the Intel contest. For the U.S. Math Olympiad—the country's premier mathematics competition for high school students—Anderson finds:
Among the top scorers of the 2004 U.S. Math Olympiad, 65 percent (13 of 20) were the children of immigrants. A remarkable 50 percent were born outside of the United States (10 of 20)...At the highest levels of competition, the tiny fraction of high school students whose parents came to the United States via the H-1B visa do better than the entire population with American-born parents. This program is a really, really big deal.
More of the Math Olympiad top scorers have parents who received H-1B visas (10) than parents born in the United States (7).
Even supposing that high school contests overstate the fraction of children of immigrants (whose parents are perhaps more likely to push them at that stage) among the nation's scientific elite, the H-1B visa is responsible for enormous percentage of our future top scientists. Maybe the bias is a factor of four—but then this one small program alone will still give us 12%.
Yet the number of H-1B visas each year remains capped at 65,000, and thanks to our bizarre system of per-country limits, the EB-2 green card (to which the H-1B often leads) is backlogged to 2006 for applicants from China and India. The EB-3 is backlogged to 2002! Why should fixing this antiquated system wait until "comprehensive immigration reform"?