With a bill being voted out of the Judiciary Committee last night, the Senate promises to tackle the thorny and complex issue of immigration. It is one of those issues where the far right some times meets the far left, and strange bedfellows abound. Some see it from the unskilled worker side, some see it from the national security side. For our part, we tend to look at the high end and the need for more visas for smart, skilled workers. That’s where our innovation — the seed corn of manufacturing — is going to come from. Our worry, of course, is that the noise from the other pieces of this debate will drown out discussions of these very important issues of attracting and keeping the best talent in the world. We noted the Wall Street Journal editorial from yesterday which pretty much hit the nail on the head.
The problem is, unless the Congress can agree on some much-needed reforms (the high-end visas are called H1B’s), these folks will go back to their home countries and compete against us. In 2001, only 8% of all degrees awarded in the US were in engineering, a 50% decline from 1960. South Kora, an economy about one-tenth the size of the US — graduates about the same number of engineers as we do here. China graduates at least four times as many. In fact, here’s a great PowerPoint presentation from Paula Collins of Texas Instruments, given at our Public Affairs meeting in Arizona last week. It pretty fairly lays out the magnitude of the problem.
And, since this is a multi-lateral game, foreign student immigration to Australia has doubled since 2000, while ours has remained flat. People will go somewhere to get the education. We need to make sure the world’s best and brightest continue to come here — and stay here.
Of course, someone — or ones — will write to say, “What about American workers?” In most of these professions, according to Michaela Platzer of ContentFirst, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, the unemployment rate is almost immeasurably low: 1.6% for aerospace engineers, 1.4% for computer hardware engineers, 1.7% for electrical engineers. There are jobs that are going begging. The work will go somewhere, and we want to keep it here.
As regular blog readers know, we have been pounding away on the need to improve US education. Hopefully the H1B issue will be moot some day, but that day isn’t here yet. We need to move on two simultaneous tracks, it seems to us: continue to work to improve the quality of the primary and secondary school system in the US and also make sure we keep the world’s best and brightest minds right here in the US.
Stay tuned for updates on this issue as it plays out this week. Also check out the CompeteAmerica website for more facts on this debate.
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