The issue is a cornerstone policy priority for tech giants such as Microsoft and Intel, which argue that they struggle to fill positions for engineering and research jobs because most applicants don't have the requisite skills for these positions. Tech companies also argue that they want to keep this talent in the U.S. rather than lose it to competitors abroad.
High-skilled immigration legislation has typically enjoyed bipartisan support, but past efforts to pass such measures have been tangled up in the larger immigration debate. The momentum for passing a comprehensive immigration package has ramped up after Obama received roughly 70 percent of the Hispanic vote during the 2012 election.
Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioTop Dem: GOP is terrified of Trump McConnell on Trump: 'I'm not a fan of the daily tweets' Senate Intel head in the dark about Trump intelligence review MORE (R-Fla.) is working with Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchPublic lands dispute costs Utah a major trade show Overnight Tech: GOP chairman to propose high-skilled visa overhaul | Zuckerberg's 5,700 word letter | Tech lobbies gear up ahead of internet fight Overnight Cybersecurity: Trump vows to punish leakers | Cyber steers clear of tech versus Trump fight MORE (R-Utah) to put forward immigration legislation, which is expected to include a high-skilled immigration measure. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal this month, Rubio said bringing more high-skilled labor into the U.S. would be beneficial to the economy.
Sens. Chris CoonsChris CoonsSenate advances Trump's Commerce pick Senate Dems move to nix Trump's deportation order Senate Dem: Trump will hurt Gorsuch's confirmation by undermining judiciary MORE (D-Del.) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharDrug importation from other countries will save dollars and lives Top antitrust senators call for Sessions to scrutinize AT&T-Time Warner merger Senate advances Trump's Commerce pick MORE (D-Minn.) are said to be working with Rubio on the high-skilled measure.
During his address, Obama also called for the U.S. to work together to improve math and science education programs in the country, which he said would prepare students for the jobs of the future.
"No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores," Obama said. "Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people."
He also noted that technology would be key to updating a variety of "outworn" programs, both inside and outside government.
"We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time. We must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, and reach higher," Obama said.
Additionally, the president said the U.S. needs to continue fostering technology and innovation, particuarly green tech, so it can stay competitive globally.
"The path toward sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries — we must claim its promise," Obama said. "That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure — our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks."
— This post was updated at 2:29 p.m.