Posted by Brad Smith
General Counsel & Executive Vice President, Legal & Corporate Affairs, Microsoft

Beginning next week – on April 1 – employers can start filing applications for H-1B visas for skilled workers that they are looking to hire to fill open jobs here in the U.S. Many of these potential workers are foreign-born students about to graduate in science, technology, engineering and math from U.S. universities, and are in demand to fill critical jobs in the U.S. economy.

Each year, there are only 85,000 H-1B visas available for highly skilled individuals – 65,000 visas under the regular “cap” and 20,000 for those with advanced degrees from U.S. universities.

This year, many employers and highly skilled potential workers are facing April 1 with increased anxiety since the U.S. government again expects all the H-1B visas for the upcoming fiscal year to be snatched up in the first week. This has significant implications, not just for these workers and their potential employers, but for the broader economy and for job creation here in the U.S.

This news further underscores the growing STEM talent crisis facing our country. It’s a problem that adversely effects every industry all across the U.S. The American economy creates 120,000 new computer-related jobs annually that require a bachelor’s degree, but we are currently producing about 51,000 graduates with a degree in computer science each year.

That gulf between supply and demand is already having detrimental effects on the American economy, with more dire consequences right around the corner. We have first-hand experience with the challenges. Currently, Microsoft has 3,400 high-paying, high-skilled job openings in core technology areas that we cannot fill. Companies across the tech industry and in other industries, increasingly dependent on skilled STEM workers, face similar challenges to ours. These open positions are a direct loss to the U.S economy today, and risk forcing companies to look to base these positions in other countries – permanently removing them from the U.S. economy. If these critical talent needs are not met, we risk slowing down the next wave of innovation and job creation in the U.S.

But the impact of each unfilled job extends beyond Microsoft’s own campus to the communities around us. For example, a recent study by University of Washington economics professor Theo Eicher estimates that every job in Washington State at Microsoft generates another five jobs elsewhere in the state economy.

More than ever before, it is clear that the U.S. Congress must act decisively to pass immigration reform. American companies clearly have a need for a strong pipeline of workers with the right skills to fuel innovation and the U.S. economic recovery.

There are hopeful signs that Congress will enact broad immigration reform legislation in 2013. A group of eight Senators are expected to introduce a much anticipated new immigration proposal in April, followed by consideration in the Senate Judiciary Committee and then on the Senate floor. A similar bipartisan bill drafting effort is on-going in the House as well.

We hope that any new broad immigration proposal will incorporate the high skilled reforms included in the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 (S.169) co-sponsored by 24 Senators. I-Squared, introduced originally by Senators Hatch, Klobuchar, Rubio and Coons, contains a package of critical high-skilled immigration reforms, including increasing the number of high skilled visas and green cards to current and future market needs while also establishing a STEM Education fund supported by employer fee increases.

The fees would be deposited in a new “Promoting American Ingenuity Account”, which would be distributed to states to strengthen STEM education by expanding the number of well-trained teachers and increasing the number of STEM graduates in related programs, including computer science. This approach addresses both our short and long-term challenges by filling high skilled jobs now, while creating a stronger pipeline of students and teachers to secure these high paying jobs of the future.

America cannot afford to go another year without broad immigration reform. The need is there and the situation is approaching an economic crisis. Let’s hope that a year from now we are working hard to implement critically needed reforms to better drive innovation and job creation.