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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Gates calls on Congress to fund education, research

US high-tech companies are being forced to outsource more jobs overseas because of outdated restrictions on immigration, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.

US high-tech companies are being forced to outsource more jobs overseas because of outdated restrictions on immigration, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates told Congress Wednesday.

Gates, echoing a longstanding complaint from the technology sector, told a congressional panel that the US immigration system "makes attracting and retaining high-skilled immigrants exceptionally challenging for US firms."

"Congress's failure to pass high-skilled immigration reform has exacerbated an already grave situation," Gates said in remarks prepared for delivery to a hearing of the House of Representatives Science and Technology Committee.

"As a result, many US firms, including Microsoft, have been forced to locate staff in countries that welcome skilled foreign workers to do work that could otherwise have been done in the United States, if it were not for our counterproductive immigration policies."

Gates said the limits on so-called H-1B visas aimed at highly skilled professionals are far too low for the rapidly growing tech sector.

He said the current cap of 65,000 H-1B visas "is arbitrarily set and bears no relation to the US economy's demand for skilled professionals."

The Microsoft founder noted that all the 65,000 visas for the current fiscal year were snapped up in one day last April and that employers are now waiting to apply for visas for fiscal 2009, starting in October.

"Last year, for example, Microsoft was unable to obtain H-1B visas for one-third of the highly qualified foreign-born job candidates that we wanted to hire," Gates said.

"If we increase the number of H-1B visas that are available to US companies, employment of US nationals would likely grow as well. For instance, Microsoft has found that for every H-1B hire we make, we add on average four additional employees to support them in various capacities."

Gates also said the United States needs to improve science and math education to train a new generation of tech leaders, reversing a move away from these fields.

"If we don't reverse these trends, our competitive advantage will continue to erode. Our ability to create new high-paying jobs will suffer," Gates said.


Speaking before the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology on Wednesday, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates outlined suggestions to build U.S. strength in an increasingly competitive international high-technology market.

Gates suggestions include improving science and math education for U.S. students. Unless more students can be attracted to science and math, Gates warns, the U.S.’s competitive advantage will erode and its ability to create high-paying jobs will suffer.

Gates thinks Congress is on the right track with the tortuously-named America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education and Science (COMPETES) Act of 2007, but says that full funding of the act is imperative to its success. Gates also suggests that Congress increase the use of data to measure student achievement.

Gates thinks that Federal funding for basic research needs to be improved, but 10 percent annually over the next seven years.

“Even though we know that basic research drives economic progress, real federal spending on basic research has fallen since 2005,” said Gates.

That research funding, he said, helps to support the education of the next generation of scientists and engineers who then create commercially successful products for U.S. companies.

Gates also called on Congress to reform immigration policies to allow more “highly skilled professionals” from abroad to work in the U.S. by raising the cap on H-1B visas, to help retain foreign-born employees with a path to permanent residency. He doesn’t see this effort as at odds with the idea of spurring more American citizens into science and math-related professions; he said that American companies simply won’t have the talent they need.

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