Microsoft’s proposal that Congress expand slots for high-skilled foreign workers while adding fees to such visas to boost investment in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education kills two birds with one stone.
First, it helps to solve a business-stifling shortage of such workers and provides a way to prepare more American children to take these jobs in the future.
The software giant has 6,000 job openings — more than half are in software development, research and related areas. Microsoft is not alone. The U.S. lags behind other countries in the percentage of STEM-educated graduates produced. A growing dependence on computer software and automation in many industries, including retail and health care, broadens the problem beyond high-tech companies.
To fill high-skilled jobs that go unfilled by American citizens, Microsoft proposes Congress increase the number of H-1B visa permits by 20,000. It also suggests Congress carve out 20,000 green cards from a backlog of half a million so STEM professionals could stay and work in this country. Visa permit fees and the costs associated with green card applications — both borne by businesses — would be raised from a couple of thousand dollars to $10,000 and $15,000 per foreign hire.
The estimated $500 million raised annually from the higher fees would fund a STEM-education effort modeled after the successful reforms inspired by the Race to the Top federal grant program.
Microsoft proposes spending the money in some key areas including more computer-science classes in high school. Currently, advanced-placement computer-science courses are in only a fraction of our high schools nationwide.
Other smart targets for the funds would be more STEM teachers and computer-technology learning in early grades, and more counselors to improve the current ratio of one college counselor to every 700 students.
The gap is widening between job openings that require STEM-related college degrees and job candidates with the requisite skills. A sense of urgency accompanies this dilemma since the U.S. is expected to add 120,000 computer-related jobs requiring bachelor’s degrees per year over the next decade. Unfortunately, our public universities and colleges produce only about 40,000 bachelor’s degrees annually.
Partisan divisions in Congress have blocked movement on immigration reform, but Microsoft offers an elegant solution to fill more jobs now while preparing more U.S. children for those jobs in the future.