Short-Term Solution to America's Talent Gap: H1B Visas

By not granting sufficient H1B visas, the U.S. government is, in effect, forcing the outsourcing of technological creativity. This is dangerous in a world where technology is innovation, and innovation (along with the intellectual property and revenue it generates) stays where the innovators are.

Emotion. Vitriol. Fear. These elements are at play on both sides of the issue of immigration reform. Yet they may be keeping us from making the best decisions for America’s long-term competitive advantage.

We hear threats of American jobs being shipped overseas or the importation of less-costly workers to our own shores. We see America falling behind in the landscape of technological innovation. Are these fears founded? If so, what’s the solution? We must take both a short-term and long-term approach—and suspend some powerful preconceived notions in the process.

The fact is that there are more technology roles available today than there are qualified U.S. candidates and upcoming graduates to fill them. An analysis of the industry by Microsoft, based on Bureau of Labor statistics data, found that only 51,474 students will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science this year, yet there are 122,300 open jobs that require the degree. According to U.S. News & World Report, China already has over 1 million college graduates each year in science, technology and mathematics, while the U.S. graduates fewer than half that number. Setting aside the hot-button issue of immigration for a moment, it’s clear that to keep American businesses thriving, we need to have the right people in the right roles. That’s what the H1B Visa is designed to do: It allows U.S. companies to hire foreign workers in specialized occupations for limited periods of time.

While hiring qualified candidates from other countries may seem like taking away an American’s job, it is an important short-term solution to a larger problem: America’s talent gap. We simply are not producing the mathematicians, scientists and technologists that other countries are. In the near term, foreign workers are necessary to keep American innovation alive. By not granting sufficient H1B visas, the U.S. government is, in effect, forcing the outsourcing of technological creativity. This is dangerous in a world where technology is innovation, and innovation (along with the intellectual property and revenue it generates) stays where the innovators are. It’s simple: We can allow those innovation activities to go to China or India, or we can make an effort to keep innovation happening in the United States. It’s our decision.

The tech industry can see the truth that immigration politics sometimes obscures. That’s why a host of companies, alongside a program called TechNet headed by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, have been some of the most vocal supporters of expanding the H1B visa program.

They know that when we bring the best minds together here in the U.S. to collaborate and innovate, we not only meet our staffing and development challenges of today; we begin to bridge the talent gap by adding to our own knowledge base, rather than giving that privilege away to the lowest bidder overseas.

Building Talent for the Future 

In the long term, America must develop more of its own tech talent. To facilitate this, every company must do its part. Here at Mondo, we have a proactive college outreach program that serves a greater purpose than scouting and recruiting. Universities, historically, are inept at preparing students for the technological landscape that awaits them after graduation. By working with universities directly, we provide students with internships, online training and the chance to “get their hands dirty” through real business-world experiences. Through this relationship, we’ve also been able to help shape and guide curricula toward the modern industry’s needs.

The U.S. Congress is very close to passing a comprehensive immigration bill that includes H1B visas. Let’s all hope that we can set fear and bickering aside and realize that the U.S. depends on the best and brightest from around the globe to maintain its edge as the leader in technology innovation—both today and tomorrow.

Michael Kirven is founder and CEO of Mondo, a technology resourcing provider.

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