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3/8/2007
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Business And Tech Leaders Push 'Innovation Proclamation' To Reform Education And Immigration

The proclamation urges changes that would help double the number of U.S. graduates in math, science, and technology by 2015, and make it easier for American companies to hire foreign tech talent.

It's not exactly the Declaration of Independence. However, nearly 300 leaders from business and education are putting their John Hancocks on a new "American Innovation Proclamation" that urges the Congress to reform education and immigration policies to help the U.S. remain globally competitive.

The proclamation urges changes that would help double the number of U.S. graduates in math, science, and technology by 2015. And in the shorter term, the proclamation asks for immigration rule changes so that it's easier for American companies to hire highly skilled and highly educated technology and engineering talent from outside the United States.

The proclamation, which is being formally unveiled on March 13 in Washington, D.C., comes on the heels of impassioned testimony before a Senate committee last week by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, who also urged similar reforms.

Microsoft is among the 270 companies represented on the proclamation, according to Robert Hoffman, Oracle's VP of government and public affairs and co-chair of Compete America, an industry organization also pushing for immigration and education reforms.

Oracle is also a signer of the innovation proclamation, which is "a check list of what Congress can do to improve the competitive capacity of the U.S," he says.

Among top priorities on the list are educational reforms to encourage more American students to pursue math, science, and technology fields. Those efforts need to target young kids, he says. "When American fourth-graders are tested in math, they lead the world," he says. "But by the 12th grade, they're down at the bottom," he says.

The proclamation also urges Congress to pass immigration reform. That includes increasing the annual number of H-1B visas -- the visa for foreign tech professionals-issued by the United States -- and to shorten the time it takes for an applicant to be issued a green card, or permanent residency. However, the proclamation doesn't spell out the specific changes, such as the number of H-1B visas the U.S. should grant each year. Right now, the cap on H-1B visas is 65,000 annually.

The proclamation is being spearheaded by Tapping America's Potential, or TAP. TAP's members are 16 U.S. business and technology associations, including the Information Technology Association of America, Council on Competitiveness, Technology CEO Council, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

According to TAP, China graduates four times the number of engineers as the United States, and by 2010, Asia is expected to be home to 90% of the world's engineers. Meanwhile, U.S. colleges and universities in recent years have been watching the enrollment in computer science and engineering programs steadily decline, says Hoffman.

Other TAP members organizations also include AeA, Business Roundtable, TechNet, Information Technology Industry Council, Minority Business Roundtable, National Association of Manufacturers, National Defense Industrial Association, and National Venture Capital Association.

Also members of TAP are the Telecommunications Industry Association, Software & Information Industry Association, Business-Higher Education Forum, and Semiconductor Industry Association.

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