U.S. high-tech companies are being forced to outsource more jobs overseas because of outdated restrictions on immigration, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates told Congress March 12. Gates, echoing a longstanding complaint from the technology sector, told a congressional panel that the U.S. immigration system "makes attracting and retaining high-skilled immigrants exceptionally challenging for U.S. firms."
"Congress's failure to pass high-skilled immigration reform has exacerbated an already grave situation," Gates said in remarks prepared for delivery to a hearing of the House of Representatives Science and Technology Committee. "As a result, many U.S. firms, including Microsoft, have been forced to locate staff in countries that welcome skilled foreign workers to do work that could otherwise have been done in the U.S., if it were not for our counterproductive immigration policies."
Gates said the limits on so-called H-1B visas aimed at highly skilled professionals are far too low for the rapidly growing tech sector. He said the current cap of 65,000 H-1B visas "is arbitrarily set and bears no relation to the U.S. economy's demand for skilled professionals."
The Microsoft founder noted that all the 65,000 visas for the current fiscal year were snapped up in one day last April and that employers are now waiting to apply for visas for fiscal 2009, starting in October. "Last year, for example, Microsoft was unable to obtain H-1B visas for one-third of the highly qualified foreign-born job candidates that we wanted to hire," Gates said. "If we increase the number of H-1B visas that are available to U.S. companies, employment of U.S. nationals would likely grow as well. For instance, Microsoft has found that for every H-1B hire we make, we add on average four additional employees to support them in various capacities."
Gates also said the U.S. needs to improve science and math education to train a new generation of tech leaders, reversing a move away from these fields. "If we don't reverse these trends, our competitive advantage will continue to erode. Our ability to create new high-paying jobs will suffer," Gates said.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008