WASHINGTON, March 28, 2008 – Next week marks the opening of a small window for U.S. employers to apply for H-1B visas for the high-skilled workers these companies must hire to stay competitive in the global economy. Because only 65,000 of these desperately-needed visas are made available, it is highly likely that this year’s supply of visas will once again be exhausted in a single day.
This small window for applications prevents Microsoft and other American high tech companies from hiring many of the most talented science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduates of the class of 2008, who will be in the job market in just over a month. Last year, Microsoft was unable to obtain H-1B visas for one-third of the foreign-born candidates the company wanted to hire because of the overwhelming shortage of visas. Our educational system is not producing nearly enough graduates with bachelor’s degrees in computer science and engineering – only 15,000 in 2006 – and many of those are foreign-born. It is not sound policy to deprive American companies of the benefits of students educated in U.S. universities that are subsidized by U.S. taxpayers.
There are a number of measures that should be taken to address this problem, including extending the period that foreign students can work here after graduation, increasing the current cap on H-1B visas, creating exemptions for graduates with STEM degrees, creating a clear path to permanent residency for high-skilled foreign-born employees, eliminating per-country green card limits, and significantly increasing the annual number of green cards.
Reforming the H-1B system is good for U.S. citizens, not just American companies. Each H-1B a company requests leads to an average of five new hires, according to a study released March 10 by the National Foundation for American Policy. A similar multiplier effect occurs at Microsoft, where we hire an estimated four additional American employees to support each new H-1B hire.
Immigration reform for high-skilled workers is a must for the strength of the U.S. economy, the competitiveness of American companies and the vitality of the American workforce. We need leadership on all sides – in the current administration and from the next President and Congress – to come together to solve this critical and urgent issue before America loses its leading position as an innovator in the global economy.