Technology entrepreneurs and investors from California are weighing in on comprehensive immigration reform, lending their support to expanding immigrant and nonimmigrant visas for highly-skilled workers. Immigration reform for people with skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) enjoys wide-ranging, bipartisan support in Washington, DC, but lawmakers still disagree on how to make reforms. The involvement of Silicon Valley adds a new dimension to the debate: these are the businesses who stand to benefit the most from the ability to recruit talent globally, but many of them are sending their businesses overseas instead of bringing the talent to the U.S.
Silicon Valley Goes to Washington DC
The New York Times recently reported that the Technology CEO Council, an organization that advocates for large tech companies like Dell and Motorola, met with lawmakers in Washington. Leading tech entrepreneurs and executives, including one of AOL’s founders, also traveled to the nation’s capital to advocate for reform of visas for high-skilled workers.
Agreement on High-Skilled Visas
Many Democrats and Republicans agree on the need to improve the availability of visas in the STEM fields, even if they do not always agree about how to do so. They also tend to disagree about how “comprehensive” comprehensive immigration reform should be. A bill that passed the Republican-led House of Representatives in 2012 would have created 55,000 immigrant visas, offering a path to permanent residence and citizenship, for immigrant students receiving advanced STEM degrees from qualifying American colleges and universities. Senate Democrats killed the bill, however, because it would eliminate the Diversity Visa Lottery in its entirety in favor of the 55,000 STEM visas.
Business Going Overseas, Where the Workers Are
Much of the case that Silicon Valley made for immigration reform focused on their need for skilled workers, the lack of enough workers with the necessary skills in the U.S., and the difficulty of bringing qualified workers here. In the face of mounting costs associated with H-1B visa petitions and backlogs lasting months or even years, technology companies are taking their operations to the skilled workers instead. Facebook told lawmakers that it opened a location in Dublin, Ireland with eighty engineers, after it could not obtain visas or work authorizations for the engineers to come to California. Microsoft has located some of its operations in Vancouver, Canada for similar reasons. Additional strategies include housing the foreign-born skilled workers in an anchored ship, floating close to shore, but in international waters.
Other countries may take advantage of the U.S.’s limited availability of skilled worker visas. The New York Times reports that foreign students come to the U.S. by the hundreds of thousands every year to study at American universities, with the majority coming from India and China. Upon graduation, many students wish to secure employment in the U.S., and American businesses want to employ them. However, many graduates with student visas must return to their country of origin, perhaps with a better offer from a company in their home country.
We could approach this from two angles. One is to wonder how the United States, with more than 300 million people, is not producing nearly enough skilled workers for these jobs, but that is a discussion for another day. As advocates for immigrant workers and the businesses that employ them, our immediate concern is helping American businesses find the talent they need to succeed. The push to improve the availability of STEM visas is welcome, but prospective immigrants with advanced STEM degrees represent just one group that could benefit American business and our economy. As Congress has suggested, our immigration laws require comprehensive reform to encompass much needed change in other types of employment- and family-based visas.
More Blog Posts:
Denial Rates for H-1B Visas Rising in U.S. Consulates in India, ImmigRantings, February 19, 2013
Group of U.S. Senators Issues Bipartisan Proposal to Reform Immigration Laws, Promote Employment-Based Immigration, ImmigRantings, February 11, 2013
President’s Inaugural Address Highlights Needs for Reform of Highly-Skilled Immigrant and Work Visa Programs, ImmigRantings, January 28, 2013
Photo credit: By David.Monniaux (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons.