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Microsoft's Canada Plan Highlights Need For Immigration Reform

Microsoft for years has sought an end to limits on the number of visas granted to foreign high-tech workers. But the demise of the immigration reform bill appears to have the company taking a different tack: It now wants to park overseas talent in Canada.
Microsoft for years has sought an end to limits on the number of visas granted to foreign high-tech workers. But the demise of the immigration reform bill appears to have the company taking a different tack: It now wants to park overseas talent in Canada.The software maker last week disclosed plans to open a development center in Vancouver--about a two-hour drive north from its Redmond, Wash., headquarters. In a frank statement, Microsoft said it will stock the center with "highly skilled people affected by immigration issues in the U.S."

Think Microsoft is trying to send a message to the senators who helped torpedo the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (which would have doubled the number of H-1B visas available for high-tech workers)?

You bet.

And from Microsoft's perspective, it's a smart move.

Canada's open-door immigration policies mean the company can airlift all the Indian and Chinese programmers it wants into Vancouver. And it can do so without having to obtain H-1B visas for them. With Vancouver a short car ride from Seattle, there'll be no problem with time zones and plenty of opportunities for face-to-face meetings between staffs on both sides of the border.

But here's the bigger picture.

Microsoft's "offshoring" to Canada shows why attempts by governments to place limits on the movement of high-tech workers are bound to fail now that the flat world is upon us.

If Microsoft, or IBM or any other tech giant for that matter, can't bring workers onto its home turf, it will simply put them in some other more immigration-friendly country. A broadband connection is usually all that's needed to facilitate communication. Or, in the case of Microsoft's Vancouver center, an eight-lane highway.

The question Congress now needs to consider is this: Do visa limits do more harm than good to the U.S. economy?

Wouldn't it be better for Washington state if the workers that Microsoft plans to place in Canada because of "immigration issues" were employed locally, paying state taxes and spending in local shops?

It appears that the biggest beneficiary of the Senate's failure to pass an immigration bill may be Canada. Is that really what Congress intended?