Today marks an important new beginning for efforts to repair the United States’ flawed immigration system. We at Microsoft congratulate President Obama for convening a bipartisan meeting at the White House on immigration reform, and commend the members of Congress who participated. Most immigration experts agree our system needs big changes, so I’m pleased to see the broad participation in this important process.
Nonetheless, we remain concerned that a serious discussion of high-skilled immigration policies has not yet begun, and we believe it must be included in any comprehensive reform. If the U.S. is to remain at the cutting edge of innovation, we must ensure that our businesses can attract and hire the best talent from around the globe.
As Brad Smith blogged earlier this year, immigration policies that attract highly-skilled workers are critical for job creation and long-term economic growth. America’s economic recovery will come from innovation within America’s borders – in its laboratories, board rooms and research centers. By giving American businesses access to the talent they need, they will be able to grow and generate additional American jobs. The more bright minds who contribute to innovation on American soil, the faster our country will return to a position of economic strength.
Now more than ever, we need smart policies to build the innovation workforce of the future.
We can start by ensuring that American students in American schools receive top-notch science, technology and mathematics education. But at the same time, we must ensure that U.S. employers have access to the world’s most highly skilled individuals, regardless of where they were born. Even during the current economic downturn, unemployment among professional workers in the U.S. is relatively low, at approximately four percent, according to the Department of Labor. That means that in many industries, it remains difficult to fill jobs that require specialized skills by solely relying on American workers.
Last year, when the economy was going strong, demand for H-1B visas to bring highly-skilled workers into the U.S. was about double the supply set by Congress. This year, for the first time in many years, the cap on H-1B visas for 2010 has not yet been reached due to the weak economy. There could be no clearer evidence that the market for highly skilled workers is self-regulating. Market demands, not arbitrary caps, should control our high-skilled immigration policies.
Certainly, any comprehensive immigration reform must include enforcement measures that punish fraud, eliminate bad actors, protect workers and shield responsible employers. Microsoft and the vast majority of employers follow U.S. immigration laws to the letter. The small percentage of bad actors cast a bad light upon all.
High skilled immigration reform is absolutely critical to American economic recovery, and to the success of any comprehensive reform effort. It will take those on all sides of this issue to work together to fix the system. I look forward to working with a diverse set of stakeholders to find creative ways to move this dialogue forward.