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Foreign workers, H-1B visa necessary for Silicon Valley

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silicon valley h1-bJustin Sullivan/Getty Images

  • Silicon
    Valley
    , a vital part of America’s economic edge, is the
    global center of the digital revolution.
  • But back in the late 1970s, the center of technology
    revolution wasn’t guaranteed to occur in the US.
  • H-1B
    visas
    and skilled foreign
    workers
    changed that. 
  • After the US repealed immigration quotas in 1965 and
    the H-1B visa was created in 1990, US companies could recruit
    globally, leading the country to become destination for global
    science, math, and computer science talent.
  • President Trump’s administration is discouraging
    foreign workers from applying to work legally in the US, and
    that could lead the US to lose its status as a leader in the
    tech world. 

Silicon Valley is a vital
catalyst for America’s economic edge. It is the global center of
the digital revolution shaping the 21st century, and its location
in the US established our country as the leader of that
revolution. The country reaps the economic benefits of having
some of the largest and most innovative technology companies and
research centers housed within our borders.

But back in the late 1970s, the
center of technology revolution wasn’t guaranteed to occur in the
US.

At the time, top computer science
talent was scattered across the globe, and the industry needed a
place where the best and brightest could gather to collaborate
and innovate. It could have been anywhere — but Silicon Valley
ended up in America.

Why?

The answer, in large part, is
because the US opened its doors to skilled foreign
workers.

After 1965, when the US repealed
the Immigration Act of 1924 — which limited the number of people
who could emigrate from each country — America’s visa system
allowed a remarkable amount of global talent to gather within our
borders, including in burgeoning tech centers like Santa Clara
County in California.


silicon valley h1-bJustin Sullivan/Getty Images

As a result, the US became a
destination for global science, math, and computer science talent
during the second half of the 20th century.

A significant amount of these
talented workers traveled to our shores from India. Between 1973
and 1977, more than 60 percent of the India Institute of
Technology in Mumbai’s top quartile of electrical engineering
graduates moved to the United States, which helped to
revolutionize the landscape of the American technology industry.
Many of these graduates


accepted jobs

in the region we now know as
Silicon Valley.

When President George H.W. Bush
signed the Immigration Act of 1990, a new type of visa was born:
the H-1B. The new law institutionalized a program that allows
employers to hire highly skilled foreign workers on a temporary
basis for roles that require specialized knowledge. As a result,
US companies were able to recruited from around the globe.


Read more:
Silicon Valley’s immigrant tech workers are scared of buying
homes after Trump’s travel ban

During my time as a US senator, I
was proud to support legislation that expanded the annual cap on
H-1B visas from 65,000 to 195,000 to meet the explosive growth of
the US information technology sector, growth that ensured America
would continue global technology leadership.

Silicon Valley and other high
tech corridors — from Austin to Boston and various areas around
the country — continue to rely on a symbiotic relationship
between American and skilled foreign workers that enhances the
contemporary tech scene.


A 2017 report

by The Silicon Valley
Competitiveness and Innovation Project found 57% of the San
Francisco Bay’s tech workforce was born outside of the US. In a
tight labor market with low unemployment, these workers help fill
a critical worker shortage that has allowed US firms to remain
strong and created thousands of jobs for US workers.

This role becomes particularly
crucial in light of the recent White House Council of Economic
Advisers’


report

highlighting the growing skills gap facing
American companies.

And America’s business leaders
recognize how invaluable these workers are to their companies.
Just last month, leaders of 59 US companies, including Apple CEO
Tim Cook and Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, signed
onto


a letter

coordinated by the Business Roundtable and
addressed to Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen,
arguing that “As the federal government undertakes its legitimate
review of immigration rules, it must avoid making changes that
disrupt the lives of thousands of law-abiding and skilled
employees, and that inflict substantial harm on US
competitiveness.”


Read more:
Highly skilled foreign workers are still flowing into the US —
and in some cities, they make more than $100,000
yearly

In stating his objectives,
President Trump said in Phoenix in 2016 that “it is our right as
a sovereign nation to choose immigrants that we think are the
likeliest to thrive and flourish and love us”. But the
regulations being promulgated by government agencies, like US
Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), are not consistent
with these objectives and could discourage high-skilled workers
from applying to work legally

in the US or

cause them to flee to other
countries


.
 

As we continue to debate the best
ways to reform

our
immigration

system, we
must not sacrifice our ability to attract the most talented
people on the planet to contribute to our nation’s prosperity and
work within our borders. Without their efforts, we would impair
the factors that have made our economy so formidable on a global
stage for more than a century.


Spencer Abraham served
as a US Senator from Michigan from 1995 to 2001,
and was Secretary of Energy for George W. Bush
from 2001 to 2005. 

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