Valley Wants More Skilled Foreign Workers
Despite steep job losses, Silicon Valley firms continue their long quest to allow more skilled foreigners to work in the U.S.
The high-tech hub lost 15,600 jobs in December alone, 1.3% of its 1.2 million total jobs, but executives and officials say that hasn't lessened the need for highly skilled workers. The federal H-1B program gives temporary visas to skilled foreign workers like engineers and scientists, but caps the number at 85,000 per year.
And even with today's high unemployment, when it might be easier for companies to find skilled U.S. job hunters, there's a push to end the cap.
"We're not in favor of controls at all. It should be wide open, the more the merrier," said Russell Hancock, president of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a large public-private group supported by many of the region's tech companies.
In fact, the situation has been exacerbated by the economy. A report this month by the Kauffman Foundation says skilled immigrants are going home in large numbers, seeing less entrepreneurial opportunity in the recession-wracked U.S. The report is titled "America's Loss."
Executives say U.S. colleges and universities don't graduate enough tech workers to meet the needs of high-tech companies. As a result, Silicon Valley has long relied on skilled foreign workers to fill the gap.
An H-1B visa can lead to a "permanent residence" green card visa if a foreign worker gets a permanent job with an American company.
Half of the nation's H-1B visa holders, according to trade group Tech-America, are tech workers. Tech-America members include many of the valley's tech companies, such as Intel, (INTC) Apple (AAPL) and Hewlett-Packard. (HPQ)
"H-1Bs and green cards remain very important," said Jeff Lande, executive vice president of TechAmerica. "The economy has gone negative, but companies still need to have access to certain skill sets. If they can't find them locally, they need to look elsewhere."
Vivek Wadhwa, a senior research associate at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering and one author of the "America's Loss" report, says about half of Silicon Valley tech companies were founded or co-founded by immigrants. He names such companies as Google, (GOOG) Intel, eBay (EBAY) and Yahoo. (YHOO)
Even before the recession, a large number of highly skilled immigrants had started voluntarily returning to their homes in countries like India and China, where they see better opportunities than they see here, he says.
"It's a problem when such people are leaving on their own, or being forced to leave because they are laid off," he said. "The best and brightest are seeing more opportunity elsewhere."
Many Valley companies agree.
Sunnyvale, Calif.- based flash memory chipmaker Spansion (SPSN) is cutting jobs and has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, but it's not looking to shed its H-1B employees, says Ajit Manocha, chief operating officer.
Spansion employs 75 H-1B visa workers among its 5,700 workers.
As the company goes through bankruptcy, it will focus on worker skills, not nationalities, he says.
"We look at what talent we need to come out of this bankruptcy process that will make us a stronger company," Manocha said. "If someone with an H-1B visa has the right talent, we want to keep that person."
Source: Investor's Business Daily