Posted by Karen Jones
Vice President & Deputy General Counsel, HR Legal, Microsoft

Yesterday, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced it had reached the statutory cap for H-1B specialty occupation petitions for fiscal year 2013, giving us a stark reminder of the continuing obstacles created by our country’s current framework for high skilled immigration.

This comes at a time when the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows the unemployment rate for computer and math occupations at just 3.5 percent – reflecting the growing shortage of U.S. workers with these skills. Reaching the annual allotment of H-1B visas only 10 weeks after the application filing period opened disrupts U.S. business and stifles growth at a critical time in our nation’s economic recovery by shutting down the hiring of global talent for the next 10 months. Companies like Microsoft—who employ significant numbers of American workers and generate high-paying jobs in the U.S. both directly and indirectly—must be able to hire top talent in areas where we have a shortage of workers in order to succeed and grow in a highly competitive global market.  

This barrier to hiring puts our country at a competitive disadvantage. While U.S. employers are precluded from hiring high skilled workers from around the world, other countries—like Australia, Canada, Chile, Germany and Singapore—are actively attracting these same types of workers and thereby strengthening their competitive capabilities in the global market. Some countries are also actively engaged in programs to repatriate top talent from the U.S. For example, China has offered significant economic incentives to encourage the repatriation of Chinese nationals who have established themselves in the U.S. as scientific elites, high-level managers and entrepreneurs.

Rather than restricting access to top global talent, our country’s approach to high skilled immigration should be enabling U.S. companies to attract and retain the world’s brightest minds so that our economy and our workforce can reap the economic benefits of their brainpower and contributions over the long term. 

There are important steps that Congress can take right now to accomplish this. The House passed the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act in November with overwhelming bipartisan consensus, 389-15. The bill would replace the discriminatory “per-country” limits on employment-based green cards with a merit-based, first-come-first-served system, but it has unfortunately stalled in the Senate. The Senate should act now and pass this important legislation.

Additionally, a number of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) bills have been introduced by a bipartisan group of Members of Congress: the STAR Act, the SMART Jobs Act, and most recently, the Startup Act 2.0, introduced in both the Senate and the House. These critically important pieces of legislation represent the types of ideas that can help the U.S. retain top foreign students who complete their education at American universities, instead of driving them to compete against us overseas. It’s time for Congress to take a step forward on immigration policy so that the world’s best minds can continue to fuel American innovation and job growth for the long term.