Engineers and management agree we should give green cards to foreign-born STEM grads, but we could use more common ground as the debate ramps up.
SAN JOSE, Calif. – As the debate over immigration gets moved to the front burner, Washington appears to be uniting, but the tech industry remains as polarized as ever.
I am glad to see Republicans and Democrats coming together on immigration reform as they scramble for the growing Hispanic vote. There are plenty of wrongs to right.
Unfortunately, there are no uniting forces in the tech community. Rank-and-file US engineers remain viscerally concerned about technical jobs getting sent overseas while management sees top talent nurtured and attracted to growing markets in China and India.
In a recent press release, the IEEE-USA cited data (below) from the US Department of Labor showing that the top 10 companies applying for H-1B visas in the first three months of FY 2013 were offshore outsourcing companies.
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It’s worth noting that same data showed the vast majority of those H-1B jobs were not for engineering, but IT staff running computer systems (below). However, the IEEE-USA claims many of these work visas ultimately get issued to scientists and engineers.
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Some members of Congress are considering increasing the H-1B cap significantly beyond 65,000 as part of comprehensive immigration reform, the IEEE release said. But that would only benefit those outsourcing companies, it claimed.
It’s worth noting the IEEE-USA supports legislation providing employment-based green cards for skilled immigrants earning advanced STEM degrees from US colleges and universities, and their dependents. “Green cards, unlike H-1B visas, allow immigrants to start their own companies, many of which will create jobs in the United States,” it said.
That’s a small but important piece of common ground where the IEEE stands beside high tech managers who are calling for green cards both for foreign-born STEM grads but for entrepreneurs as well. Why let that brilliant engineer start a hot new company in Shanghai when she could start it in San Francisco, they ask.
Even if the tech lobby can learn to speak with one voice, it is a tiny squeal amid the immigration roar. Huge lobbies are at play, some pressing for stronger enforcement along the Mexican border, others demanding a path to citizenship for undocumented workers.
In the end the US immigration debate is more about how we regard Mexico than China and India. In my opinion, there is plenty of room for useful reforms in both directions.
It’s also clear to me that we need as much unity as we can get in US politics these days if we are going to move the ball forward. So here’s to the hope we can all find a little more common ground on which to stand.