At the same time that the United States Senate was beginning its debate on S. 744, the comprehensive immigration reform bill, human resource (HR) executives from some of our nation’s most innovative technology companies – Adobe, Broadcom, CA Technologies, Dell, EMC, Intel, Motorola Solutions, Teradata, and Texas Instruments – came to Washington to meet with policymakers and make tech’s case for immigration reform. Their message was simple: Passing immigration reform would enable these and many other forward-thinking enterprises to fill tens of thousands of U.S. jobs, and create hundreds of thousands more jobs for Americans.
The HR executives covered quite a bit of ground on Capitol Hill in a short amount of time. In just a little over a day, they met with members and staff representing 20 congressional offices, House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats. Each HR executive brought their own unique perspective to the challenges of finding skilled talent to work in the U.S., but they joined together to relay several critical themes:
- It’s “Skilled Help Wanted” across America. Every company represented said they are actively hiring, and are engaged in ambitious recruitment operations in colleges and universities across the country. Together, the eight companies literally have thousands of unfilled jobs. This is not surprising. The website dice.com currently lists nearly 85,000 publicly posted tech job openings in the U.S. These jobs, however, won’t go unfilled forever. American-based tech companies operate in a global marketplace. If they can’t find the highly-educated talent they need to stay ahead of their competition, companies will have to look outside America to fill their vacancies.
- Finding qualified people in the U.S. to fill these open jobs has been and continues to be a serious challenge. One HR executive told policymakers that even “during the depth of the great recession, we struggled to fill jobs.” The competition for talent has become so fierce that the HR executives acknowledged that they were recruiting skilled talent away from their competitors.
- Filling high-skilled jobs creates new jobs for Americans. The HR executives pointed out that when highly skilled positions are filled, it generates related jobs within their company – jobs filled overwhelmingly by Americans. This company hiring generates economic activity that, in turn, sparks new jobs within the surrounding community. This tracks with a December 2012 Bay Area Council Economic Policy Institute report, which estimated that the creation of one job in the high-tech sector creates more than four additional jobs in the local community.
- Immigration reform will turn a brain drain into a brain gain for the US economy. Our current immigration system has not kept pace with the rapidly growing skilled economy, with the result being that many talented foreign-born professionals have been stuck in professional limbo for more than ten years waiting for permanent resident visas (“green cards”). The HR executives warned policymakers that more and more professionals stuck in the green-card backlog are giving up on America and going home or to other countries. The Senate immigration bill would reform the green-card system, eliminate the backlog, and advance the U.S. as a central hub for innovation.
- Immigration reform will strengthen U.S. business operations, particularly in research and development. The HR executives represent companies that sell more of their goods and services overseas, but still perform the bulk of their innovative research in the U.S. The Senate immigration bill would enable these companies to utilize temporary skilled visas like the H-1B to recruit emerging talent from American colleges and universities to complement their domestic workforce and strengthen their U.S. operations.
- Tech is committed to investing in talent development in the U.S. Every one of the tech companies represented in our meetings have active programs that invest in advancing science, technology, education and math (STEM) programs in communities across the country. The HR executives expressed strong support for provisions in the Senate bill that would invest in STEM education programs through increases in visa fees.
The HR executives this week provided a good dose of the current and emerging realities for the technology sector. The intense competition for talent is global, and it’s not just a competition among companies, but also among countries. These and many other high-tech companies will invest in skilled talent wherever they can find it. And the HR executives made it clear that today’s broken immigration system makes it extremely difficult to recruit and retain foreign-born graduates from our own colleges and universities to work and innovate in America.
Immigration reform can realign current immigration policy with today’s economic reality, and revitalize America’s innovation leadership. With immigration reform, U.S.-based global companies can continue to hire America first.