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3/7/2007
06:13 PM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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Gates Takes Immigration Case To Washington

Do you believe Bill Gates' message that the United States has a tech-talent shortage -- near term and long term? The answer should shape your reaction to three main issues Microsoft's chairman discussed during congressional testimony this week: H-1B visiting worker visas, tech education, and immigration.

Do you believe Bill Gates' message that the United States has a tech-talent shortage -- near term and long term? The answer should shape your reaction to three main issues Microsoft's chairman discussed during congressional testimony this week: H-1B visiting worker visas, tech education, and immigration.Short term, expect the chorus for increasing the H-1B cap to get louder over the next month, writes Marianne Kolbasuk McGee, with the approach of the April 1 date when companies can submit petitions for visas. In recent years that cap has been filled in a matter of months. Gates, in calling to raise the cap, says this year's visas will run out before degree candidates graduate. "So for the first time ever, we will not be able to seek H-1Bs for this year's graduating students," he told Congress.

On the education front, Gates' message is that we need to pour resources into math, science, and tech education: double the number of graduates by 2015, and add 10,000 teachers in those fields. Again, expect more on this theme -- business groups are rallying behind these numbers. In his testimony, though, Gates leaves one big question hanging. Why, if science, math, and tech offer the world's most dynamic and promising education and career path, do kids not want to go into it? We've taken up this issue in the past , and last week InformationWeek editor-in-chief Rob Preston laid some of the blame on tech employers.

Gates' third major point is perhaps the most interesting of all, and one less often discussed: immigration. People rail against H-1B temp workers taking jobs, and they nod in agreement for better education in the United States, but permanent immigration is less often discussed. Gates urges two major reforms: making it much easier for foreign students to study here and stay here, and expediting the process of getting permanent residency for highly skilled workers. Immigration is more complicated policy work than raising the H-1B caps, or adding 25,000 science and math scholarships, which is why it's more likely to be neglected. If Social Security is the dreaded third rail of politics, immigration is its downed electrical wire: a problem everyone knows about, but no one's sure how to fix, so they just walk away.

The tech talent pool is one of the most critical issues we cover, and we have one of our signature research projects, our Salary Survey, under way now, with results due next month. Please participate, like 10,000-some IT pros did last year, at informationweek.com/salary. Count on us to analyze those results with concerns over a labor shortage issue as a backdrop.

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