Immigration law reform á-lá-Bill-Gates

Are tough immigration laws impeding leading corporations from hiring the talent they require to maintain their leading positions? Highly-skilled immigrants have it as hard as ever these days, to legally adjust their status to work in the U.S. Could this have a negative effect in the U.S. economy? Undoubtedly YES! There is a registered shortage of skilled workers, and the aging/retiring boomer generation is only going to increase the lack thereof.

Fortune 500 CEOs are complaining, but also, they are not sitting down and waiting for someone to make a decision. They are taking charge of the situation by moving their research and development facilities to Canada and other countries where highly skilled workers can obtain work visas without the hardship immigrants go through in the U.S. Is this in the U.S.’s best interest?

The Society for Human Resources Management addresses this issue:

The failure of Congress to pass immigration reform has exacerbated an already grave situation related to the “gathering threat to U.S. pre-eminence in science and technology innovation,” Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corp., told the House Committee on Science and Technology on March 12, 2008. Gates proposed a four-point plan to help the country maintain its position as the world’s innovation leader:
* Revamp immigration rules for highly skilled workers so U.S. companies can attract and retain the world’s best scientific talent
* Strengthen education so U.S. students and workers have the skills needed to succeed in the technology- and information-driven economy
* Increase funding for basic scientific research
* Provide incentives for private-sector research and development

The U.S. economy depends on the ability of innovative companies to attract and retain the best talent regardless of nationality or citizenship, but the immigration system makes attracting and retaining high-skilled immigrants exceptionally challenging for U.S. firms, Gates said. For example, the current cap of 65,000 H-1B visas awarded annually is… so low that it virtually assures that highly skilled foreign graduates will work elsewhere after graduation,” Gates said.

While Congress considers increasing the H-1B visa cap, there are actions lawmakers can take that would help foreign-born engineering, math, and, science graduates of U.S. universities remain in the United States, Gates said. Those actions include:
* Revamping the H-1B visa system, because under the current system an H-1B petition generally can be filed only on behalf of an individual who has a degree, but most graduates receive their degrees in May or June, well after the H-1B application filing period has closed in their graduation year.
* Expansion of the “optional practical training” (OPT) program from 12 months to 29 months. The OPT program allows F-1 visa holders to obtain temporary employment as a means to gain practical work experience.
* Creation of a “streamlined path to permanent resident status for highly skilled workers,” so that foreign students can remain in the United States if they want to.

During 2007, the “counterproductive immigration policies” of the U.S. prevented Microsoft from obtaining H-1B visas for about 33 percent of the “highly qualified, foreign-born job candidates” the company wanted to hire,” said Gates. The U.S. H-1B policy is forcing companies to locate such high-skilled staff in third countries so they can do work that would normally be done in the United States. “No policy related to H-1B will impact the percentage of foreign labor that works in computer science; all it will affect is the portion of that is done in the United States,” said Gates.

Source: Career Management Alliance and SHRM, Global HR Focus Area, March 2008

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