Tech Leaders Applaud Immigration Bill's Focus on H-1B Visas, STEM Workers

Jan 30, 2013 07:21 am | CIO
by Kenneth Corbin

Leading technology firms and trade groups hailed Tuesday's introduction of bipartisan immigration-reform legislation, praising the provisions in the bill that would expand the number of high-skilled workers eligible to remain in the country, including a special exemption for those trained in fields like technology and engineering.

The Immigration Innovation Act, backed by two senators of each party, is squarely aimed at addressing a shortage of top talent in the high-tech industries.

Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith called the bill "a major step forward."

"It's critical that America address the shortage of workers with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills," Smith said in a company blog post. "There are many high-skilled, high-paying jobs being created by American businesses across the country that are being left unfilled because of this gap. The country's economic and technology leadership are dependent on improving STEM education and implementing broader immigration reform."

The introduction of the Immigration Innovation Act, backed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), follows an announcement Monday from a group of eight senators, including Rubio, outlining broad principles for comprehensive immigration reform legislation to address high-skilled workers as well as a path to citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants currently residing in the country.

On Tuesday, President Obama addressed the push for immigration reform in a speech in Las Vegas, pointing out that "immigrants helped start businesses like Google and Yahoo."

"Right now, there are brilliant students from all over the world sitting in classrooms at our top universities. They're earning degrees in the fields of the future, like engineering and computer science. But once they finish school, once they earn that diploma, there's a good chance they'll have to leave our country," Obama said.

"Intel was started with the help of an immigrant who studied here and then stayed here. Instagram was started with the help of an immigrant who studied here and then stayed here. Right now in one of those classrooms, there's a student wrestling with how to turn their big idea -- their Intel or Instagram -- into a big business," he added. "We're giving them all the skills they need to figure that out, but then we're going to turn around and tell them to start that business and create those jobs in China or India or Mexico or someplace else? That's not how you grow new industries in America. That's how you give new industries to our competitors. That's why we need comprehensive immigration reform."

Obama said that the framework the group of eight senators unveiled on Monday closely aligns with his own vision for immigration reform, saying that the rapid, bipartisan momentum the issue has garnered early in the new congress bodes well for swift action.