EDITOR'S DESK: Gates on labor

Wyatt Kash

For a man whose company was once chided for ignoring the value of maintaining a presence in Washington, Microsoft's chairman Bill Gates made more than a little splash in town late last month.

Gates was here to support a Microsoft-sponsored forum for government and academic leaders from throughout the Americas. But he raised a few eyebrows at a panel discussion at the Library of Congress.

Gates proposed getting rid of current U.S. H1-B visa caps that restrict the hiring of foreign workers.

Citing concern for continuing declines in the number of U.S. students pursuing careers in science and technology, Gates said the restrictions were hurting Micro- soft'and America's ability to attract world class technology talent to the U.S.

Given the thousands of IT engineers who remain displaced thanks to market consolidation and offshoring, Microsoft's recruiting challenges may find few sympathizers.

But Gates has a point.

Currently, only 65,000 guest-worker visas are granted each year to immigrants specializing in the fields of math, science, engineering and medicine. Something is amiss when the annual limit for this kind of talent is reached on the opening day of the government's fiscal year, as happened this year.

'The theory that too many smart people are coming into the U.S. is questionable,' said Gates. While concerns for national security weren't lost in the discussion, the larger issue remains that technology'and an environment that supports top technology talent'has historically been at the core of what drives America's economy.

Virtually everyone agrees more must be done to attract America's students into the fields of science and technology.

But discouraging foreigners from bringing their best talents to the U.S. is not the solution either. Little by little, other nations are already becoming more attractive to the world's emerging generation of technology innovators. It doesn't take a Bill Gates to see that a policy that accelerates that doesn't seem like the wisest policy.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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