VCs push for more skilled immigrants

Silicon Valley prides itself on being a meritocracy. But can it really be described that way?

KAI RYSSDAL: Part of the debate over immigration has been about how illegal immigrants supposedly steal jobs. But a new study out today says we need certain immigrants if the economy's going to generate good jobs. Venture capitalists funded the study. They figure immigration policy ought to follow the money. From the Marketplace Entrepreneurship Desk, Steve Tripoli has more.


STEVE TRIPOLI: It's easy to find high-profile U.S. companies whose founders include immigrants. Google, eBay, Yahoo and Intel among them. Mark Heesen of the National Venture Capital Association says those companies make a case for letting more of one type of immigrant in.
MARK HEESEN:"As venture capitalists we follow the entrepreneur. If you want to keep good companies and good ideas in the United States you have to have those entrepreneurs located in the United States."

It's the VCs' chosen method for attracting them that stokes a firefight. The study is aimed at increasing the number of H-1B visas the government grants. There's a bill before Congress to do just that. Those visas let skilled workers in for up to six years.

But longtime critic Norman Matloff at the University of California says business has another agenda here.

NORMAN MATLOFF:"The bottom line is H-1B is about cheap labor, and that's what's driving all this."

Matloff cites congressional studies showing that employers pay H-1B workers less than similarly skilled Americans. He says there's no shortage of American tech entrepreneurs. And if tech workers were lacking their starting salaries would reflect that.

MATLOFF:"And they have been flat since 1999. So, obviously we don't have a shortage, if salaries are not rising."

Mark Heesen of the VC group says market conditions determine salaries. And he says they're no argument for shutting talent out in any event.

HEESEN:"The more educated individuals you allow to come into the United States and create companies, the more jobs at the end of the day this country is going to produce."

Expect just this kind of back and forth on this issue when the new Congress takes its seats.

I'm Steve Tripoli for Marketplace.

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