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Stifling growth by constricting the high-skilled workforce April 26, 2006

Posted by Tom in Economic Development, Media, Opinion, Workforce.

The CEO of TechNet placed an op-ed in today's USA Today about one of the more curious aspects of the convergence of ED and workforce – immigration.

Under the current system, the federal government provides 65,000 H-1B visas [explanatory link added] each year, beginning Oct. 1. Yet the visas made available last October were spoken for almost two months before that, which means our open door for innovation is temporarily closed for 14 months.

For foreign-born students graduating from a U.S. college in June, the H-1B limitations make it difficult for them to find jobs here. We're even closing the door on those with H-1Bs visas who seek permanent U.S. residency because of extended delays in a system designed largely in 1990, when our workforce and economic needs were different.

For the U.S. high-tech community, these laws present a difficult choice: Innovate or perish. If we can't find professionals to do the job here in the USA, many will simply move the job to the qualified workers overseas.

America has capitalized on its global reputation as an immigrant-friendly "melting pot" to lure many of the world's brightest young minds to its higher education institutions. These students then find that they enjoy life in America and set down their roots here – building businesses and providing expert skill at a rate that outstrips our native-born capacity. Simply put, we have skimmed the cream off the top of the world's talent supply for years and grown the world's greatest economy.

Now, with post-9/11 immigration restrictions, America's knowledge-driven companies are starving for new talent. One answer to the problem is to develop home-grown talent, but our culture and educational systems do not align our youth toward engineering and the "hard" sciences. That's why we have relied on immigrant talent. To change our internal course as a country may take a generation, and the rapid rise of mainland Asia (China and India, specifically) on the world stage means that we don't have the luxury of time. And we've been chafing under the H1-B visa restrictions for many years now.

Immigration reform is stumbling through the Congress as I type, and the issues raised by TechNet and those by border protectionists are unfortunately being intertwined. There is a real chance that the high-skilled immigration demand will lose out as the passions related to illegal immigration overwhelm the debate.



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