MICROSOFT’S announcement last week that it will locate a big, new office complex in Vancouver, B.C., ought to give Congress a sharp nudge that it must finally deal with immigration reform.
No one should begrudge Vancouver its new high-tech “centre,” or the fact that Microsoft will more than double its employment in that region. But the $90 million it will spend each year might have remained here, and the 400 new jobs would have added to the creativity that helps our local high-tech industry thrive.
The overarching problem is immigration policy. America limits the number of visas granted to workers with foreign citizenship and specialized skills. Some 65,000 of these H-1B visas are granted each year, and another 20,000 go to holders of advanced degrees from U.S. schools.
Demand has reached the point that they are awarded by lottery — a record 172,500 applications were made for fiscal year 2015. For Microsoft, Canada’s more-flexible policies make it a better base for international recruitment. The company also points to Vancouver’s smart and highly trained workforce.
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These are elements of the same story. Microsoft says it must look beyond our borders because America isn’t producing enough highly trained graduates — a report commissioned by the Washington Roundtable says there are 34,000 high-tech jobs in this state waiting to be filled.
Microsoft leads the industry in lobbying Congress to relax or end the visa caps. Just as important, Microsoft offers a forward-thinking solution in what it calls a national talent strategy — tech companies would pay higher fees for each foreign hire, which would fund a competitive grant program to promote science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.
Right now, the narrow issue of H-1B visa reform is stalled amid the general debate in the U.S. House over immigration, and it is one of many problems that need resolution. It should be settled as part of a comprehensive package. Microsoft’s decision is a reminder that Seattle’s status as a high-tech center — not a centre — is at stake.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).