High-tech CEOs hope for more H1B visas

June 2, 2008 6:13:41 PM PDT
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been quite vocal about the end-game for the Democratic nomination.

But on Monday, she focused on the economic issues facing the Silicon Valley with an appearance in Santa Clara.

High on the agenda is the lack of H1B visas for foreign high-tech workers.

High-tech CEOs say they need an increase in the temporary worker visas known as H1B visas. Those are temporary worker visas meant to allow highly educated individuals in the sciences and technologies to work in the U.S.

Silicon Valley executives say it really can't compete in the global market without them.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other representatives are telling Silicon Valley companies they are on their side.

At a gathering at the Santa Clara Convention Center, more than 600 Silicon Valley hi-tech CEOs and researchers agreed that immigrants have significantly contributed to the growth and success of Silicon Valley.

"Half the companies in the valley have been founded by foreign born students who came here to school and stayed and founded companies here that we have all benefited from," said William Watkins from Seagate Technology.

Yahoo was founded by Taiwan-born Jerry Yang for example. Watkins is the CEO of Seagate Technology, which has more than 50,000 employees worldwide.

He says inventive and intelligent immigrants educated in the U.S. are being forced to take their talents elsewhere because they can't get H1B visas.

"So we bring those students in train them and then train them in the best universities and then we send them home, won't let them stay here. It's like were outsourcing the best talent we have," said Watkins.

Watkins says he's already taken most of his company's hard drive research and development overseas chasing the talent that's moved offshore.

The group of hi tech firms represented have asked for help from legislators like representative Anna Eshoo who spoke along with house speaker Nancy Pelosi at Monday's conference.

EShoo says the immigration reform bill which increased H1B visas was defeated last year. She says a whole new approach is needed in Washington to help Silicon Valley thrive.

"I think we need a new president a new start. I think anything this comprehensive will have to be taken up by a new congress next year," said Rep. Eshoo.

Representatives of the Silicon Valley leadership group lobbied in Washington recently to have the h1b visas returned to their pre 9/11 number of 165,000. It was reduced to 65,000.

Representative Zoe Lofgren, who also attended the conference says education standards need to be improved in the U.S. before the need for H1B visas can be reduced.

"The elite schools are still doing well, but there are still plenty of smart kids that have a brilliant future, but were not doing what we can for them to get the education they need," said Lofgren.

She says until then we shouldn't turn away anyone who can keep the U.S. competitive and employed.

Representatives Lofgren and Eshoo say any discussion about immigration reform, including an increase on the number of H1B visas will have to wait until the new Congress takes over next year.


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