Why the IT Industry Is Desperate for H-1B Reform Legislation
Amid broad agreement that more skilled workers would boost the tech economy, industry experts suggest that comprehensive immigration bill coming up for debate doesn't go far enough to help fill IT, engineering and manufacturing jobs.
Thu, May 09, 2013
CIO — As the debate over comprehensive immigration reform begins to heat up in Washington, many in the tech sector will be keeping a close eye on a specific set of provisions in the proposed legislation that would increase the number of high-skilled, foreign-born workers eligible for visas and other work programs to keep them in the country legally.
U.S. businesses in many industries--though perhaps none more than IT--have long complained that the country's immigration laws are overly restrictive, with caps on so-called H-1B visas for high-skilled workers that are insufficient to meet the demand for top engineering and technology talent.
Current Policies Hurting Tech Industry
At a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee yesterday afternoon, there was broad agreement from witnesses and members of both sides of the aisle that access to skilled foreign workers is critical for vibrant industries like high tech and advanced manufacturing, as well as an acknowledgement that current policies are overdue for an update.
"Our current system for high-skilled immigration is broken," says Gwenne Hendricks, CTO and Vice President of Product Development and Global Technology at Caterpillar, a firm that employs around 10,000 engineers and has banded with several tech companies in pressing for looser H-1B visa laws.
--John Rockefeller, Chairman of the Commerce Committee.
"High-skilled immigration reform will benefit Silicon Valley type companies, but it will also benefit Midwestern manufacturers like Caterpillar," Hendrick adds. "Today our machines are powered as much by software as they are by fuel."
When the most recent pool of H-1B visas was opened earlier this year, U.S. businesses reached the cap in less than a week.
"Tens of thousands of high-skilled immigrants come to this country every year to study, work or start a business. We should welcome these people because they make our country and our economy stronger. They create American jobs" says John Rockefeller (D-W.V.), the chairman of the Commerce Committee.
"The role of immigrants in the phenomenal growth of the U.S. technology industry over the past two decades is very well documented--and stunning, is it not? Absolutely stunning. Many of our largest and most successful tech companies like Intel, eBay, Yahoo, Google were founded or co-founded by foreign-born immigrants," says Rockefeller .
"High demand for H-1B visas and long waiting times for green cards make it more difficult for talented, foreign students to work, to start a business here after they finish their degree," Rockefeller adds. "Some students give up and go home, unfortunately."