Microsoft chairman says curbs on foreign tech workers could damage U.S. competitiveness.
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said Friday that that the U.S. could jeopardize its prospects for economic growth if it imposes stricter limits on the number of skilled immigrants allowed to enter the country each year.
"The U.S. Congress is tough on immigration, but why not make an exception for smart people," said Gates, speaking in New Delhi.
The H-1B visa program allows foreign nationals with advanced degrees or special skills to enter the U.S. for three years. The visas can be renewed for an additional three years. A number of legislators have criticized the program in recent years, claiming it displaces American workers.
Gates and other tech industry leaders, however, insist the program is essential to their ability to recruit the individuals they need for high-level jobs in programming, engineering, and other advanced disciplines.
A good portion of H-1B workers are from India. Gates said the country needs to be more than just a source of cheap tech labor. "You don't want to have that as the only differentiator and it's not a sustainable thing, because others can come along with that as well," said Gates, according to the Reuters news agency.
Indeed, a number of countries—including China, the Philippines, and Brazil—have seen an increase in work offshored from the U.S. in recent years as Western companies look to diversify their labor sources.
Gates said India could ensure its future competitiveness by offering tax breaks that encourage local research and development and by committing more funds to PhD programs in math and science. The private sector must also play a role, said Gates.
"Leading companies here are contributing a lot of ideas and techniques. Even more of that has to happen," said Gates.
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