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Silicon Valley executives call for immigration reform for workers

Silicon Valley executives call for immigration reform for workers

U.S. companies are struggling to hire and retain the world's best employees, and America's immigration policy desperately needs reform, executives and academics said Wednesday at a Silicon Valley business summit.
Sun Microsystems Inc. sponsored the Emerging Markets Summit, a one-day event coming amid growing pressure from the tech industry to boost caps on skilled worker visas.
Because the national immigration debate has focused largely on unskilled and illegal immigrants, many technology executives favor separate legislation governing highly skilled, legal workers.
Hundreds of foreign nationals _ mostly engineers, students and computer programmers _ marched in San Jose, California, last month to protest the backlog of permanent visa applications at the U.S. Department of State. Based on government data, as many as 1 million foreign nationals were waiting for permanent residency in 2006 _ including more than 500,000 highly skilled immigrants.
Sebastian Teunissen, an international business professor at University of California, Berkeley, said capping the number of high-skilled foreign workers that U.S. companies can import shrinks the pool of talent for Silicon Valley companies.
"Why would anyone who is a reasonable, rational thinker want to reduce resources and protect inefficiencies?" Teunissen asked.
Sun has thousands of employees abroad, including 1,300 at an 11-year-old development center in Bangalore, India. The hardware and software company will likely get a majority of its revenue from overseas operations in the next three to five years.
But, said CEO Jonathan Schwartz, the company still relies on engineers it brings to Sun's Silicon Valley campus from India, China, Brazil, Russia and other countries. He worries about the growing difficulty of securing visas for foreigners who want to work here.
"The United States is at risk of isolating itself as an economy," Schwartz said. "What I worry about is that we're becoming very conservative about who we let into the country."
Norm Fjeldheim, chief information officer for telecommunications company Qualcomm Inc., said the U.S. needs to revise immigration policy to give permanent residency to many foreign nationals who study or work in the U.S.
According to a study published last week by Harvard, Duke and New York University, the number of foreigners in the U.S. who filed patent applications from 1998 to 2006 tripled _ yet many will return home because the U.S. has not expanded the number of highly skilled workers who get green cards.
One type of permanent visa for skilled workers popular in Silicon Valley, the EB visa, is capped at about 120,000 per year. The limit from any single country is about 8,400.
"I've got this problem all the time with my employees _ we train them up and then they return to their own country," he said. "What are they going to do there? They're going to create their own companies."
Lin Lee, who directs Sun's government strategy in Asia, said many entrepreneurs want to join startups in China _ where even five years ago they would have tried to immigrate.
"The living standard has really gone up. You can have any food you like. The apartments are really nice," said Lee, who moved to China after her husband was transferred to Beijing. "Things are very, very different now _ not just the living standard but the opportunity entrepreneurs see. They almost see another wave of opportunity that they don't see here."


Updated : 2021-05-14 19:14 GMT+08:00