Immigration Reform and the Tech Sector

In the technology sector this issue has been on the forefront for at least 15 years, perhaps longer.  the ability to hire talent.  A tech company is only as good as the engineers, software developers, mathematicians computer scientists etc that they can hire.  The big problem being that the US simply cannot graduate  enough qualified people with these desired degrees to fill the demand.  So companies are forced to look abroad for the necessary talent and it is there that the problems begin.  In order to get these people into the country they need to be granted visa’s, specifically a H1-B visa.  This is not an infinite number, but a highly regulated one. The H1-B visa is covered under what is known as the  Immigration and Nationality Act.  This sets the guidelines as to who can be permitted and what type of qualifications they must have to enter the country and work.  This, to be clear, is all fine.  I could type out everything and it would be a fine education for myself and those that read my blog, but the act itself is not the primary concern.  The section that covers how many visa may be provided is of concern.  Each year the US government grants 65,000 of these visa’s which are sucked up very quickly by the tech sector, many by off shore companies such as WiPro and Infosys.  Through some loopholes etc..the number rises to above 100,000.  These visa’s are usually all gone within 4 months of their availability.  Depending on where you as an employer are in the hiring process you may find and interview someone only to be denied a visa as they are all gone.  It strikes me as  a simple solution to double or triple the number for H1-B visas and increase the number of jobs created in the US for high paying US-based jobs.  But as is typical in the US congress these types of simple solutions get caught up in complex issues like immigration reform. An issue that  I find personally important is both rising cost of higher education and the increase in enrollment by foreign nationals in our university system.  When I say this I do not mean it to sound like I am being racist, that is not my intent, but when we educate a workforce it is with the idea of those graduates getting jobs and contributing to the growth of the US economy.  Two things are causing this not to happen in my view.

  1. While the cost of tuition is increasing in the US making a college education ever more expensive, but the dollar rate is low making it attractive for foreign nationals to attend US institutions
  2. Globalization provides an avenue for graduates to return home

AOL Founder and now venture capitalist, Steve Case had this to say about current immigration reform, specifically STEM jobs act of 2012 “My view is if there is a way to come together around broader immigration reform quickly, that would be great. But if that doesn’t happen, then we shouldn’t delay the issue because every year — and again it will happen in May and June next year — 40,000 to 50,000 people will be graduating with Ph.D.s and masters’ degrees, and half or so will end up having to leave. Some of those people will go back to their countries and start companies that could end up being the next Googles or Facebooks.” Go to any university campus in America and you will see in engineering and computer science departments a large number of foreign nationals.  Is this a bad thing? No.  But as institutions shed some of the weight of government funding and embrace a more capitalistic side of education they have to embrace the concept of what drives the most revenue.  If you have good grades and can pay a premium you are in.  This is all wonderful until you realize the work force you are educating, America is not benefiting from.

It is a compliment to the American higher education system that we have so many great institutions.  If you look at any list of the top 100 or 400 universities in the world you will find a large percentage on the list are higher education institutions located in the United States.  There are the ones you would expect like Harvard, Yale and Stanford.  To lesser known schools including my Alma mater, Washington State University.  It is a great sign that people from humble origins can attend a university and without knowing anything accidentally receive an education from one of the top academic institutions on planet earth.  Thus the frustrations of the tech sector. They are sitting on a gold mine but can not mine their rewards as either students are not opting into the programs with the desired skill sets they need or those that do attend are either going home to their birth place or cannot get the appropriate visa to stay in the country and work.

While all this is going on keep in mind the world in the emerging markets has changed drastically over the last 25 years.  Those markets are starting to create their own very strong and vibrant economies.  Their own strong higher academia institutions. Their own vibrant technology sectors.  I think in the United States we are guilty sometimes of thinking our way of life is desired by everyone and this view will last forever.  The world is changing very fast and some of those markets will change and be vibrant economies and societies on their own, enjoying many of the same opportunities and freedoms that we enjoy here.   We have a window of opportunity to bring talent into the United States.  However that window will not stay open forever.

At a time where our country has gone through a financial upheaval this seems a rather simple concept for job creation.  That he jobs are there, they are posted on many websites in some of America’s biggest technology names, which includes Microsoft,  Google, Facebook, Apple. Twitter etc..To be honest the tech sector is a shining star to the American get rich mentality, to our history of innovation and success.  If you started to fill these positions, which are really well-paying jobs many in the six figure category it will spill over into real estate and retail.  They will need transportation so the automotive sector will grow and all we need to do is have some congress person put a 2 or 3 on front of the 65 and we have directly created 200,000 or more jobs, not to mention the trickle down effects it has on local communities.  It’s a simple move with little risk, so lets take the dive, let’s take a chance and do the right thing.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann December 17, 2012

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