BoardBuzz isn’t sure where to begin. Let’s start with the facts. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates paid a visit to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to testify before the House Committee on Science and Technology. He presented a wish list that you may recognize from last year. Gates wants more money for math and science education, more funds for research, and more visas for skilled foreign workers. His testimony focused much on global competitiveness and the need for the U.S. to drastically reform its immigration program. As the Washingont Post reports:
In his last scheduled testimony to Congress before he retires, Gates said those provisions are necessary for the United States to maintain a competitive edge in technology innovation. He said some of the most talented graduates in math, science and engineering are temporary residents and cannot get the visas they need to take jobs with U.S. companies.
This perspective has incited much debate about immigration and the “offshoring” of jobs. However, Gates brings up an interesting point. “U.S. innovation has always been based in part on foreign-born scientists and researchers,” he said. “The fact that their smartest people have wanted to come here has been a huge advantage to us, and in a sense, we’re kind of throwing that away.”
BoardBuzz is reminded that some of “America’s” greatest minds were in fact foreign nationals at one time. Albert Einstein probably being the most prominent. However, there certainly is a difference between seeking to incorporate great minds into our workforce and simply sending jobs overseas.
The debate over this issue surrounds Gates’s demand to increase the number of H-1B visas issued annually. Currently, only 65,000 visas may be issued, and that number is generally filled within the first day the visa process opens. H-1B visas allow employers to hire foreign workers with specific skills. Last year, Microsoft was not able to get visas for about one-third of its prospective foreign employees, claims Gates. Microsoft even went so far as to establish a Canadian outpost for these workers just across the border.