Today, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will begin receiving H-1B petitions filed by employers across America looking to secure the talents of some of the world’s brightest minds.
Companies like Microsoft—who employ significant numbers of American workers and generate high-paying jobs both directly and indirectly—need to be able to meet their personnel needs with top talent to continue innovating and competing at the highest levels.
Yet even with our economy in the midst of a prolonged recovery, the annual allotment of H-1B visas is projected to be exhausted earlier than last year, and well before the end of the government’s fiscal year. This isn’t surprising, with the unemployment rate in the technology sector below 4 percent. Our economy is hungry for workers with strong educational backgrounds, especially those with degrees in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. We must continue to improve educational and professional opportunities for American workers, while keeping the door open to highly skilled talent from around the world to support the needs of U.S. businesses.
However, the availability of H-1B visas is only the beginning of the story. While the vast majority of our U.S. workforce is comprised of U.S. workers, the individuals we employ in H-1B status—educated at some of the best universities in the U.S. and around the world—are crucial to our business. We need to be able to continue their opportunities to make contributions to the U.S. economy over the long term. That is why we sponsor our foreign-born employees for green cards and invest in their futures in the U.S.
Yet our current green card system is not up to the task, with highly valued professionals spending a decade or more mired in backlogs. Government officials are warning that these backlogs will become even more severe next month, especially for individuals born in India and China. Our country’s approach to high skilled immigration must do a better job of reducing these backlogs to enable U.S. companies to retain this talent, and reap the economic benefits of their brainpower and contributions over the long term.
There are important steps that Congress can take right now to accomplish this. The House passed the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act in November with overwhelming and rare bipartisan consensus, 389-15. The bill would replace the discriminatory “per-country” limits on employment-based green cards with a merit-based, first-come-first-served system, but it has unfortunately stalled in the Senate. The Senate should act now and pass this important legislation. Congress should also pass legislation to help ensure that the U.S. can retain top foreign students who complete their education at U.S. universities, rather than driving them away after graduation to compete against us in other countries.
Ensuring that high-skilled talent can make it through the door and contribute to our economy with temporary visas like the H-1B is just the first step. The ongoing access to high-skilled workers from around the world is one of the key factors enabling Microsoft to continue investing the bulk of our research and development dollars—$9.6 billion in the past year—right here in the U.S. Keeping these employees, their talent and their contributions in our economy for the long term through an effective green card system is the best way to promote a robust, job-generating, innovation-based economy for the future.