The Wall Street Journal editorial page leads today (subscription required) by arguing that Congress should lift the cap on H1-B visas and that the market should dictate skilled labor immigration policy. Let’s see how much I can quote and claim a fair use exemption:
[The H1-B visa cap means that] any number of fields dependent on high-skilled labor could be facing worker shortages: science, medicine, engineering, computer programming. It also means that tens of thousands of foreigners — who’ve graduated from U.S. universities and applied for the visas to stay here and work for American firms — will be shipped home to start companies or work for our global competitors.
Congress sets the H-1B cap and could lift it as it has done in the past for short periods. Typically, however, that’s a years-long political process and cold comfort to companies that in the near term may be forced to look outside the U.S. to hire. Rather than trying to guess the number of foreign workers our economy needs year-to-year, Congress would be better off removing the cap altogether and letting the market decide.
Contrary to the assertions of many opponents of immigration, from Capitol Hill to CNN, the size of our foreign workforce is mainly determined by supply and demand, not Benedict Arnold CEOs or a corporate quest for “cheap” labor. As the nearby table shows, since the H-1B quota was first enacted in 1992 there have been several years amid a soft economy in which it hasn’t been filled. When U.S. companies can find domestic workers to fill jobs, they prefer to hire them.
And let’s not forget that these immigrant professionals create jobs, as the founders of Intel, Google, Sun Microsystems, Oracle, Computer Associates, Yahoo and numerous other successful ventures can attest. The Public Policy Institute of California did a survey of immigrants to Silicon Valley in 2002 and found that 52% of “foreign-born scientists and engineers have been involved in founding or running a start-up company either full-time or part-time.”
They also include this handy and condescending guide to H1-B visa figures:
The August void has been filled, to some degree, by discussion about immigration of skilled and unskilled foreign workers; among other things, the governors of Arizona and New Mexico have declared “states of emergency” along their borders and a debate in Herndon, Virginia over the establishment of a day laborer gathering site has brought immigration into the spotlight in the Washington newspapers and has spilled over into the Virginia gubernatorial race.
So if there is a coming national debate about immigration of both skilled and unskilled workers, the computing research community has to be ready to voice our side and claim a seat at the table.