Losing The Talent Battle

Craig Barrett, the chairman of Intel Corporation, points out that Europe is making a smart move on granting visas to highly educated foreign immigrants, one that will severely disadvantage the United States in the brain game, as it were. While Barrett obviously has a dog in this fight, he also makes sense in pointing out the asinine visa system the US has in place at the moment.

The European Union took a step recently that the U.S. Congress can't seem to muster the courage to take. By proposing a simple change in immigration policy, E.U. politicians served notice that they are serious about competing with the United States and Asia to attract the world's top talent to live, work and innovate in Europe. With Congress gridlocked on immigration, it's clear that the next Silicon Valley will not be in the United States.

European politicians face many of the same political pressures surrounding immigration as their U.S. counterparts, and they, too, are not immune to those pressures. Nationalist and anti-immigrant factions in several Western European countries have made political gains in recent elections and are widely viewed as mainstream. Despite the hot-button nature of immigration issues, though, E.U. politicians advanced the "Blue Card" proposal in late October.

The plan is designed to attract highly educated workers by creating a temporary but renewable two-year visa. A streamlined application process would allow qualified prospective workers to navigate the system and start working in high-need jobs within one to three months.

This contrasts starkly with the byzantine system in place in the United States, which increasingly threatens America's long-term competitiveness.

To some extent, the high-tech industries have gamed the H-1B visa system, according to some other articles I read some time back, using the highly educated, but lower paid, immigrants to cut jobs for American programmers. So I am not entirely sympathetic to Barrett's arguments here. On the other hand, I am also very supportive of fixing the badly broken immigration system and the securing the border. That high fence, wide gate thing I keep writing about. If European governments approve the EU-backed measure, the US would, indeed, be at a disadvantage in the global talent market. This is something that needs to be fixed. Desperately.

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3 Responses to Losing The Talent Battle

  1. NortonPete says:

    —”To some extent, the high-tech industries have gamed the H-1B visa system, according to some other articles I read some time back, using the highly educated, but lower paid, immigrants to cut jobs for American programmers. So I am not entirely sympathetic to Barrett’s arguments here. —

    I totally agree. H-1Bs were paid 1/3 as much an hour, then the supplying consulting firm added 30% and they were still 50% cheaper than American programmers.
    Their foreign degrees were next to impossible to verify, everyone had at least a MS degree. Their workmanship with regard to the art programming was poor. It was difficult to get these programmers to share sub routines or common data structures. Rarely was the code documented. If you wanted to make a change it would take weeks to find all the variations of the same data element.
    American managers preferred them because H1-Bs never questioned an assignment or required much management. Of course that’s why we still have 20+ year old systems in the FAA. That was about the last time I recall that you could actually insist that programmers on a “team” share routines and data structures.

  2. feeblemind says:

    I would speculate that the EU needs to import talent to counter the brain drain as the native population flees for greener pastures.

  3. CJ says:

    The US’ advantage used to be in getting the students to come here. Many of our foreign workers in Silicon Valley and the pharma industry, and other industries, have advanced degrees (MS and PhD) from US universities. Once the students are here, they tend to stay and join the workforce – a pretty well-educated and hardworking group, at that.

    Unfortunately, the US has also been messing with the student visas and we’ve started losing students to Australia and Europe. Couple that with the H1B fiasco, I agree we are probably headed for big problems.

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