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Highly-skilled immigrants still seen as a need

Steve Henn May 21, 2007

Highly-skilled immigrants still seen as a need

Steve Henn May 21, 2007


KAI RYSSDAL: Down the East Coast a ways, the debate on the immigration bill began in the Senate today. If it passes, it would transform how America will pick its next generation of immigrants. The new system would give more weight to aspiring immigrants’ education and skills.

You’d expect high-tech companies to love that idea. But many in the business world — even in high-tech — still say it won’t deliver the workers they need. Marketplace’s Steve Henn explains.

STEVE HENN: If you ask Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez why the proposed immigration deal will be good for the American economy, he doesn’t hesitate.

CARLOS GUTIERREZ: This is about getting the skills that our economy needs, and this is about ensuring that we can grow and prosper.

If the bill passes, America will start choosing its new immigrants differently, giving more weight to education.

You’d think high-tech companies, like Oracle, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft, would love this idea. But they don’t.

Robert Hoffman is a vice president at Oracle and co-chair of Compete America, a coalition of high-tech firms. First and foremost, his group wanted more highly-skilled workers to be let in. That’s not what they’re going to get.

ROBERT HOFFMAN: We were asking for something easy. And the fact is, is that we’re now being told that this bill has a system that is not what we asked for.

Under the proposed system, a well-educated philosopher could beat out a high-tech engineer.

Hoffman says not all Phds. are created equal. He’d like to keep the current system, which lets employers choose the exact worker they need.

HOFFMAN: We believe that system, in and of itself, works extraordinarily well. It ensures that employee skills meet employer demands.

Today, some high-tech lobbyists on the Hill warn that this bill — as it stands now — simply doesn’t work for their industry. They say if it’s not amended, they may not be able to support it. And this is just one of many hurdles the Senate faces as it debates this bill over the next two weeks.

I’m Steve Henn for Marketplace.

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