"In today's global marketplace, we cannot afford to keep turning away those with skills that our country needs to grow and to succeed," said Bloomberg, at a speech sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Partnership for a New American Economy. "I've called it national suicide--and I really think it is."
Bloomberg cited a number of studies that he said showed that immigrants working in hi-tech fields help to create jobs for Americans through investments, entrepreneurship, and by helping U.S. companies become more competitive globally. "These high-skill workers will not only help create thousands of jobs, they'll also give us knowledge of foreign markets that will help U.S. businesses increase their exports."
Bloomberg, who made his own fortune by developing systems that feed key financial data to Wall Street traders, said Congress should pass legislation that increases the number of green cards available to foreign born workers in fields like computer science, math, and engineering. He also called on lawmakers to pass bills that would eliminate the numerical cap on temporary, H-1B visas and that would make Ph.D students in STEM programs immediately eligible for permanent resident status upon graduation.
[ Groups that represent tech workers oppose easing visa rules. Read Microsoft IT Hiring Problems Bogus, Say Programmers. ]
"Turning these students out of the country is, to put it bluntly, about the dumbest thing we could possibly do," said Bloomberg, who delivered the speech Sept. 28 in Washington, D.C. "Other countries are bending over backwards to attract these students--and we're helping them to do it. We've become the laughing stock of the world with this policy."
Bloomberg said the U.S. risks losing top global talent to countries like China, India, Canada, and Chile, all of which have instituted programs designed to make it easier for hi-tech professionals to immigrate. His comments echo calls for immigration reform by executives at major U.S. tech firms, including Microsoft. The software maker says it has thousands of open positions it can't fill because it's unable to find workers with the right skills.
Such comments are sure to provoke controversy, as they come at a time when the nation's high-unemployment rate, in excess of 9%, has helped spark protests like the Occupy Wall Street movement. On Monday, Bloomberg, in his capacity as mayor, said he would allow the protesters to occupy parts of lower Manhattan indefinitely.
Some groups that represent U.S.-born IT professionals say the H-1B program, which allows foreign tech workers to remain in the country for a maximum of six years, gives employers the means to replace them with cheap labor.
Bloomberg said he doesn't buy such arguments. "As the data clearly show, immigrants don't take away jobs; they make jobs--and that is especially true for high-skilled immigrants."
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