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Comprehensive immigration reform needed to retain talent in US: American tech industry to lawmakers

A Green Card, known officially as a Permanent Resident Card, is a document issued to immigrants to the US as evidence that the bearer has been granted the privilege of residing permanently.

February 25, 2021 / 07:44 AM IST

Comprehensive immigration reform is important not only to attract the best global talent but also to retain them who are already in the US but stuck in the green card backlog, representatives of the American tech industry, including Microsoft, have told lawmakers.

A Green Card, known officially as a Permanent Resident Card, is a document issued to immigrants to the US as evidence that the bearer has been granted the privilege of residing permanently.

"One of the reasons that comprehensive immigration reform is so important is we have so many other extraordinarily talented people here, including working in the tech sector, who need the added certainty.

"They''re either stuck in a green card backlog because they came here from India,” Microsoft president Brad L Smith told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing on Emerging Technologies And National Security on Wednesday.

They, he argued, risk actually having their children age out.


Professionals from India currently have the longest waiting period for Green Card, running into decades, because of the country quota for employment-based categories. A legislation supported by the Biden administration seeks to remove the country cap on employment-based Green Card, a move that has been welcomed by the US tech industry.

“I''m very struck that we have an extraordinarily talented young person at Microsoft. He''s working at Microsoft to our benefit rather than on, frankly, what he''d like to do, which is in the aerospace field, because as a docker registrant, he can do one thing, but not the other...We need to address this range of issues to continue to nurture the world''s best talent,” Smith said, responding to a question from Senator Tim Kaine on maintaining US'' technological edge and immigration reform.

Under the current rule, a foreign professional on an H-1B visa can only work in the field that he has been given the visa. But given that IT is such an evolving and dynamic field, this prevents many Indian IT professionals from working in other creative areas, even if it is related to IT.

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. The technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.

Smith said US'' technological edge remains a very high priority. However, he said, one of the interesting things about technology is that it always starts with talent, so it starts with people.

"And if you want to have the world''s best technology, especially if you have a country, as we do, that has the world''s best universities, you want to continue to attract the best and brightest, not just to study here, but to stay here,” Smith said.

“The more we can do and especially these high-demand fields in these critical graduate degrees, to give people the assurance upfront that they can not only get a visa but a green card, we put ourselves on a path to do that,” he said.

Schmidt Futures Co-founder Eric Schmidt told lawmakers that the US must build every possible technological sharing path between its key alliances.

“And who are they? Israel, France, Germany, the UK, Japan, Korea, maybe India. Right. There is a list of about ten. And the world that''s coming through the industry is the T10,” he said.

“And what it means is constant harvesting of the best ideas, putting companies together, and so forth. If...American global companies are our greatest asset...let''s have American companies working closely across all those boundaries. Everything that we do to make it harder to work across those boundaries also hurts our national security,” Schmidt said.

He also advocated a national competitiveness plan, which includes a list of the key technologies and a list of the key countries

In his written testimony, Smith said digital technology plays an increasingly critical role in the defence of the nation.

"Emerging technologies are redefining the way we secure the peace, maintain our defense, and when necessary, fight wars. The US cannot secure its digital defences by acting alone. One of the country''s greatest strategic advantages is its global network of allies and partners. In part this is because of the global nature of technology innovation and markets." he said.

Moreover, one of the key drivers of successful development and deployment of technology is scale. The larger the potential market for US technologies, the larger the pool of private and human capital that will be dedicated to the research and development efforts needed to maintain America''s competitive edge, Smith argued.

Scale plays a major role in AI development in particular. AI runs on data. That means that China, with a population of 1.4 billion, has a comparative advantage when it comes to mustering sheer quantities of personal data, he said.

But the combined populations of the US, our NATO and Five Eyes allies, Japan, and Korea, total over 1.1 billion. If Mexico, India and Brazil are added, the combined population of this potential coalition of democracies would be close to 2.9 billion, Smith said.

The Five Eyes is the biggest intelligence alliance of the world, comprising the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

“The US should work with its global network of alliances and partners to invest in and build coalitions with like-minded partners to develop, adapt, and deploy new technologies," Smith said.

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first published: Feb 25, 2021 07:44 am
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