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U.S. Tech Worker Shortage Looms, Study Warns

Tech-industry backed group says U.S. is losing the global battle for tech talent to countries that welcome skilled workers with open arms. But not everyone is convinced of a talent shortage.
Earlier this month, Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced a bill, the Securing the Talent America Requires for the 21st Century (STAR) Act, that would reserve 55,000 green cards for foreign students enrolled in graduate level STEM programs at U.S. institutions.

To offset those visas, the so-called green card diversity lottery would be eliminated.

They study's authors said special visas should also be created that would allow workers to be employed in specific areas of the country where demand for certain skills is the greatest.

"To remain a global leader, America should recruit immigrants with the right skills to fill jobs where they are needed," said former Toronto mayor David Miller, who consulted on the study. "Countries like Canada encourage regions and businesses to identify skills needed in their local labor markets. In a global competition for talent, this approach ensures that immigrants with the right skills for the economy are chosen."

Not everyone is convinced that the U.S. is facing a tech worker shortage. Ron Hira, a public policy professor at Rochester Institute of Technology, has said that claims of an imminent talent crunch are trumped up by tech companies looking for cheap, controllable labor. Hira declined to be interviewed, but provided InformationWeek with a copy of written testimony he gave to a Senate judiciary subcommittee last year.

Hira noted that Microsoft, one of the nation's largest tech employers, announced layoffs of 5,000 workers in 2009. "This was a substantial share of its workforce and according to its most recent filings Microsoft's workforce in the U.S. still hasn't come back to its 2009 levels," Hira said.

"The typical H-1B worker merely has ordinary skills, skills that are no better than American workers who are currently unemployed or underemployed," said Hira.

Earlier this year, IBM laid off about 1,900 workers, according to [email protected], which advocates on behalf of Big Blue employees. The group claims that since 2005, IBM has reduced its U.S. headcount by about 30%, from 133,789 employees to 94,000 today. The numbers have not been confirmed by IBM, which has discontinued its practice of reporting employee headcount by country.

Still, those people who believe it should be easier for tech workers to enter and remain in the country insist that immigration reform is essential if individual locales and the nation as a whole are to remain globally competitive.

"New York City is beginning to lose jobs to foreign competitors with business-friendly immigration policies," said Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City. "Our city's business leaders agree with Mayor Bloomberg that immigration reform belongs at the top of the national agenda."

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