March 12, 2008

Bill Gates support easy immigration for US

US high-tech firms are forced to outsource jobs overseas because of immigration restrictions, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said as Congress debated a visa program for skilled workers. Gates, echoing a longstanding complaint from the technology sector, told a congressional panel that the US immigration system "makes attracting and retaining high-skilled immigrants exceptionally challenging for US firms." As a result, many US 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 United States, if it were not for our counterproductive immigration policies. 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.

Launched in 1990, the H-1B visa program allows foreign scientists, engineers and technologists to be employed for up to six years, at the end of which they must obtain a permanent residency or return home. A large number come from Asia, especially India. Although the tech industry has long pressed to ease visa limits, some labor advocates and other analysts argue the program depresses wages for the sector and that the worker shortage may be exaggerated. Gates argued that the US economy benefits from these skilled immigrants. He cited a study that found that one quarter of all start-up US engineering and technology firms created between 1995 and 2005 had at least one foreign-born founder.

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