Bill Gates Says Immigration, Education Reform Needed For U.S. To Compete

Gates urged Congress to provide more money for science and math education and research, and to raise the cap on green cards and H-1B visas for foreign talent.

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee, Senior Writer, InformationWeek

March 12, 2008

3 Min Read

Bill Gates this morning told members of Congress they need to to help America remain globally competitive by increasing funding for science and math education, basic science research, and to raise the cap on green cards and H-1B visas for foreign talent.

The testimony by the head of Microsoft, the world's largest software company, before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Science and Technology was similar in message to testimony he gave before a Senate committee last March.

Like last year, Gates' testimony comes just weeks before the U.S. government begins on April 1 accepting from employers petitions for H-1B visas workers. Last April, the U.S. in two days received about 133,000 petitions, more than double the 65,000 that can be allotted annually. By end of last April, the U.S. also received enough petitions to reach the cap on the 20,000 H-1B visas awarded annually to foreign-born students who receive advanced degrees from U.S. schools.

In his testimony on Wednesday, Gates urged Congress to raise the 85,000 total cap on H-1B visas, as well as increase the 140,000 annual limit on employment-based visas, or green-cards, so that foreign-born, highly-skilled talent can remain in the U.S.

"I want to emphasize that the shortage of scientists and engineers is so acute that we must do both: reform our education system and reform our immigration policies," said Gates. "This is not an either-or proposition. If we do not do both, U.S. companies simply will not have the talent they need to innovate and compete."

Gates testimony also asked Congress to "fully fund" educational programs for high school math and science programs as well as higher-education training, increase funding for basic science research, and provide incentives for private sector research and development.

"As a nation, our goal should be to ensure that ultimately every job seeker, every displaced worker, and every individual in the U.S. workforce has access to the education and training they need to succeed in the knowledge economy," Gates said. "This means embracing the concept of 'lifelong learning' as part of the normal career path of American workers, so everyone in the workforce can use new technologies and meet new challenges."

He summed up his testimony by saying, "I believe this country stands at a crossroads. For decades, innovation has been the engine of prosperity in this country. Now, economic progress depends more than ever on innovation. And the potential for technology innovation to improve lives has never been greater. If we do not implement policies like those I have outlined today, the center of progress will shift to other nations that are more committed to the pursuit of technical excellence. If we make the right choices, the United States can remain the global innovation leader that it is today."

Not everyone was pleased to see Gates return to Congress to lobby for changes in U.S. immigration policies. Programmers Guild, an IT worker advocacy group that is against raising the H-1B visa cap, spoke out against Gates' proposals.

"The H-1b program is dissuading the next generation of Americans from entering the tech profession," said Kim Berry, president of Programmers Guild, in a statement. "H-1B forces new graduates, with $50k student loans and no experience, to directly compete for American jobs against citizens from every country in the world. There is currently no requirement that employers give preference to American applicants. The Programmers Guild thinks that there should be."

About the Author(s)

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Senior Writer, InformationWeek

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee is a former editor for InformationWeek.

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