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CompTIA's Immigration Reform Could Create a Modern Workforce

By - Source: Toms IT Pro

CompTIA recently advocated immigration reform for technology workers, arguing for increased access to green cards for STEM graduates, new visas for entrepreneurs who want to start new companies here, and for market-based caps on H-1B visas.

Credit: RawPixel/ShutterstockCredit: RawPixel/Shutterstock A recent CompTIA white paper makes a compelling case for immigration reform in the U.S. Creating a 21st Century Workforce says we should rethink how we admit highly skilled high-tech people into our country to work in their chosen fields.

"Our nation relies on a modern, highly skilled workforce to remain competitive and innovative in today's global economy," states the paper. "Yet current policies are inhibiting our ability to find and retain top-talent as well as cultivate a sustainable long-term talent pipeline that is required to achieve a strong 21st century workforce. According to Cyberstates 2017, the U.S. tech sector employment grew by nearly 3 percent in 2016, approaching 7 million workers. Without much needed reform, the United States will not be able to sustain this growth."

To remedy looming skills and talent gaps, CompTIA recommends a three-pronged strategy including immigration reform, improving STEM education intiatives and pumping additional investments into job training programs. The first of those prongs should explain "why the immediate need for access to the global talent pool is vital to achieve a 21st century technology workforce." The other two prongs have not yet been addressed.

Deployment in the U.S. tech sector exceeds that for all other sectors shown in the chart for both 2015 and 2016. Credit: CompTIA Immigration Reform White PaperDeployment in the U.S. tech sector exceeds that for all other sectors shown in the chart for both 2015 and 2016. Credit: CompTIA Immigration Reform White PaperMORE: H-1B Visas: What You Need to Know

CompTIA distinguishes between two major components of the workforce that focus on technology related employment. The first it identifies as "tech industry employment," which "consists of all the workers employed by tech companies, including positions that are not technical." The second is called "tech occupation employment," which "consists of the technology specialists employed by organization[s] ranging from hospitals to banks to retail stores and utilities." The company's recommendations address the need of both of these employment groups.

In assessing the global competitiveness of the U.S. Technology Industry, CompTIA asserts that it faces significant foreign competition. With 28 percent of the $3.8 trillion global market, the $1 trillion U.S. market no longer represents a majority or even a significant plurality.

The company points to significant growth in Asia as intensifying global competition, including competition for scarce and valuable human resources. Development and build-out in emerging technology fields such as AI, driverless vehicles, the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain transactions is a global phenomenon, which is creating significant demand for trained and knowledgeable personnel.

CompTIA describes "a talent pipeline that is increasingly falling short of the needs for technology workers across all sectors." This makes talent recruitment a vital component for sustained growth. Because foreign competitors are in the same boat and recruiting ever more aggressively, CompTIA states that the U.S. "must reform its immigration laws to remain competitive in this space." This leads to a discussion of 2024 projection of 8 million technology jobs, of which 25 percent will go unfilled. Because the domestic workforce can't fill this gap, says CompTIA, immigration laws must change to let U.S. companies fill the gap with foreign STEM workers.

Their view of the emerging situation is that because "at least 50 percent of those graduating from U.S. universities with a master's degree or PhD in a STEM field are foreign nationals," that we must figure out a way to keep more of them working here once their educations are completed. The H1-B visa program, capped at 85,000 annually, is a particular barrier. For instance, this year there were 199,000 applications received in the first four days.

Even those in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program that makes it possible for students to remain In the U.S. for up to two years after graduation, all foreign graduates ultimately fall under the H1-B program's umbrella. This limits our uptake unacceptably, and must be addressed. CompTIA observes, quite rightly, that other countries are not hampered by such restrictions, pointing to Canada's far more liberal immigration policies, as well as Germany's job seeker visas that convert to work permits and residency easily and readily when holders of those visas find jobs.

CompTIA specifically makes the following immigration reform policy recommendations:

  • Increased access to green cards for high-skilled STEM graduates, including expanding the exemptions and eliminating annual per-country limits for employment-based green cards.
  • New entrepreneur visas: special visas for foreign-born entrepreneurs who wish to create new businesses in the U.S. Many other countries including Canada and Australia already offer such visas, and support local versions of the International Entrepreneur Rule.
  • Market-based visa caps: The U.S. needs to do away with an arbitrary cap on visas and adopt a market-based approach for H-1B visas.

I also believe that visas should not be used as a tool to undercut pay for native-born American workers. Many opponents of expanding the H-1B program cite instances where companies seek to recruit foreign-born workers into domestic jobs at significantly lower pay rates than those that native-born workers would accept. If a real market dynamic is to occur, employers seeking to fill positions with foreign workers should pay them the going market wage as well. This should make the debate on this topic in the Congress, and its resolution in the form of new legislation, fascinating to watch and report on.