Bloomberg News

Gates Urges Unlimited Visas, More Science Graduates (Update2)

March 07, 2007

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT:US) founder Bill Gates said the U.S. should end limits on visas for skilled foreign workers as part of plan to boost U.S. economic competitiveness.

``Even though it may not be realistic, I do not believe there should be any limit'' on H-1B visas, Gates told the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee today in Washington. He also urged the federal government to spend more on basic scientific research and said the nation should double the number of science, technology and math graduates by 2015.

Gates, 51, is among technology-industry executives in Washington this week to press Congress on easing immigration for skilled workers, improving public education and increasing funding of university-level scientific research.

Members of Congress, while endorsing the recommendations, have largely failed to enact the proposals, citing obstacles including the federal budget deficit and political opposition to loosening immigration laws.

``We know we must change course, but we have yet to take the necessary steps,'' Gates told the Senate panel.

Current U.S. law limits H-1B visas, used for high-skilled foreign workers, to 65,000 a year. Gates said he believes there should be no limit, because skilled workers rejected by the U.S. are creating job opportunities in competing countries.

A legislative proposal to raise the limit to 300,000 would be ``fantastic,'' said Gates, who is chairman of Microsoft, the world's largest software maker. The company has 3,000 available jobs that foreign workers could fill, he said.

Semiconductor Industry

Rich Templeton, chief executive officer of Texas Instruments Inc. (TXN:US), and John Daane, his counterpart at Altera Corp. (ALTR:US) are making similar pleas while visiting Washington this week on a lobbying trip organized by the Semiconductor Industry Association.

Texas Instruments, the world's largest maker of mobile-phone chips, also backs a proposal that would grant a ``green card,'' allowing permanent residency in the U.S., to foreign students who earn a graduate science degree at a U.S. university, Templeton, 48, said in an interview.

``There's a lot of support on both sides of the aisle'' in Congress for that plan, said George Scalise, 72, president of the San Jose-based Semiconductor Industry Association, in the interview.

A group of 270 business and higher-education officials led by Harold McGraw, chairman and chief executive of McGraw-Hill Cos. (MHP:US), also plan to issue a statement next week calling for legislation that implements a package of ``competitiveness'' measures. McGraw, 58, is chairman of the Business Roundtable, a Washington-based association of chief executive officers of U.S. companies including General Motors Corp. and Citigroup Inc.

Effect on U.S. Workers

The H-1B law and the proposed extension into green cards would hurt U.S. workers because the measures are designed to help high-technology companies hold down wages, the Center for Immigration Studies has said in reports.

The green-card provision would let companies ``force foreign workers to put in long evening and weekend hours, something it would be hard to get American workers to do,'' the Washington-based research group said in May 2006 report.

Applications sponsored by companies for H-1B visas in computer occupations were for workers who would earn an average of $13,000 less in wages than the amount paid to U.S. workers in the same occupation and state, the center said in a December 2005 report. The estimates were based on fiscal year 2004 data submitted to the U.S. Labor Department.

Altera's Daane, 43, rejected the idea that the visas provide a cost advantage, saying wages are based more on education levels.

To contact the reporter on this story: Paul Basken in Washington at pbasken@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Glenn Holdcraft at gholdcraft@bloomberg.net


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