"We are creating unfilled jobs," said Microsoft chief counsel Brad Smith, speaking at a forum on immigration policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. "We have a shortage."
Smith said Microsoft currently has 6,000 openings, 3,400 of which are for software engineers, developers, programmers, and the like. He said Microsoft can't fill many of the positions because it is unable to find enough applicants with the high-tech skills it needs in key areas like cloud computing and mobility.
[ For another perspective on IT hiring, see How To Build A High-Performance IT Team. ]
Smith said the problem is twofold: U.S. colleges aren't turning out enough grads educated in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and the U.S. government's immigration policies are preventing the company from importing enough foreign workers to fill the gap.
Smith said the economy is creating 120,000 new jobs per year that require STEM skills, but colleges are only producing 40,000 STEM grads annually. "This shortage is going to get worse," said Smith.
Smith called on Congress to increase the number of high-tech visas available for foreign IT workers. He said the government should issue 20,000 STEM-specific visas each year, in addition to the 65,000 H-1B visas currently available. He also called for 20,000 new green cards for tech workers. Smith said the government should charge companies $10,000 per visa for the former, and $15,000 for the latter.
Smith said the government could use the $500 million that such programs would create to fund more STEM training for U.S. students. The programs would also allow Microsoft and other high-tech employers "to fill the jobs that are simply sitting open today."
Smith said the shortage of high-tech workers is impacting more than just technology companies. "The future of any industry in this country, you're thinking and talking about the future of software," said Smith, who noted that industries like financial services, healthcare, and manufacturing are more dependent on IT than ever. "We are not alone," said Smith.
If Congress fails to enact immigration reforms, "the jobs could go to other countries," said Smith.
Not everyone buys Microsoft's claim that there is a shortage of American IT workers. Critics say the company simply wants to hire more foreign workers because they cost less.
"They probably have 6,000 jobs to fill because they are enamored of foreign labor," said Les French, president of WashTech, a Seattle are tech worker advocacy group that is affiliated with Communications Workers of America. "I doubt they couldn’t fill the jobs from the available labor pool in the U.S.," said French, in an e-mail to InformationWeek.
The 65,000 H-1B visas that were allotted for the government's new fiscal year, which starts next week, have all been used, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
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