Time to expand H-1B visas

By Boston Herald editorial staff

Sunday, March 11, 2007


As
this state wrestles with the sorrowful aftermath of that immigration
raid in New Bedford, it’s a good time to remember that not all
immigrants – legal or illegal – slave away at sewing machines under
sweatshop conditions.

    No,
many bring skill sets critical to keeping our high-tech economy growing
– many, but not nearly enough to fill the needs of American business.

    This
past week no less an authority on the subject than Microsoft founder
Bill Gates appeared before Congress to plead for more visas for skilled
foreign workers. Currently only 65,000 such workers are allowed in a
year under the so-called H-1B visa program.

   “Even though it may
not be realistic, I do not believe there should be any limit” on the
program, Gates told a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor
and Pension Committee, chaired by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

    One
legislative proposal would increase the number to 300,000 and Gates
gave every indication those would be used up in a heartbeat. His own
firm has 3,000 available jobs that could be filled by foreign workers,
he said.

    Sure,
it would be wonderful to think they could be filled by qualified U.S.
workers too. But that isn’t going to happen in the near-term without
vast improvements in public education. (Although on that score Gates,
through his foundation, has truly put his money where is mouth is.)

    Too
often U.S. companies take an easier – and cheaper – way out. They
either outsource work to foreign companies or take their own operations
offshore, to places from India to Ireland where they can get the
skilled labor they need.

    Unless
and until U.S. schools are turning out the kind of workforce this
nation’s corporations need to grow, there is no reason not to lift the
current limit on H-1B visas and thousands of reasons to do so.

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