America, and the Tech Sector, need the world’s best and brightest
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Research recently conducted by the Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC) shows that technology companies in our region, many of whom do critical work on behalf of the federal government, struggle to find qualified talent to fill open positions in areas such as cybersecurity, data analytics and software development. Our nation’s colleges and universities are revamping programs to meet industry’s demands with qualified graduates. But they can’t do so fast enough to keep American companies competitive. 

The jobs and industries of the future will most certainly be tech-based and tech companies rely upon knowledge workers with specialized skills to grow and innovate. That’s why, in order to grow the American economy, we need to attract the best and the brightest workers from across the world and make it possible for skilled and productive employees to stay here to drive innovation.

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The H-1B visa program was created to allow U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in occupations requiring highly-specialized knowledge through a lottery system that allows companies to compete for the ability to hire these highly-skilled workers. But, in recent years, that lottery system has not kept up with industry demand and has become increasingly flawed.

The 2017 lottery opened earlier this month with no material changes to the program from previous years, despite indications from President Trump on the campaign trail. So now Congress must act to protect and reform the H-1B program. To counter concerns that companies can take advantage of the system, paying these foreign-born workers artificially low wages and hurting American workers, the wage floor should be raised to keep more jobs here in the U.S. and keep the job market competitive. Recent legislation proposed by Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP senators call for Barr to release full results of Epstein investigation Trump health official: Controversial drug pricing move is 'top priority' Environmental advocates should take another look at biofuels MORE (R-Iowa) and Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions To combat domestic terrorism, Congress must equip law enforcement to fight rise in white supremacist attacks MORE (D-Ill.), as well as two House bills proposed by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), address this issue. This type of bipartisan support for reform is critical to preserving America’s role as a hub for tech innovation.

In addition to making necessary modifications to the H-1B program, leaders in Washington should create and support policies that encourage entrepreneurs to start their businesses in the U.S. In January, the Department of Homeland Security published a new rule to increase and enhance entrepreneurship, innovation and job creation in the United States. Called the International Entrepreneurs Rule, it would allow foreign entrepreneurs to apply for "parole status" to stay and build fast-growing startups in the U.S. if they can prove that their young companies have the potential for rapid growth and job creation. Congressional leaders should act swiftly to make this rule permanent and to implement additional policies to keep these startups in the country once they have matured.

Finally, we must find ways to keep foreign-born students who earn STEM degrees from U.S. universities here after they graduate to put to use the valuable education they receive in support of our economy. Grassley and Durbin’s H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act includes a provision giving preference to these students in the H-1B visa process. Additionally, several years ago, Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerFacebook users in lawsuit say company failed to warn them of known risks before 2018 breach New intel chief inherits host of challenges Overnight Defense: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces MORE (D-Va.) proposed a new STEM visa that would offer green cards to U.S.-educated foreign students who graduate with a master’s or Ph.D. in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

These proposed policies are a step in the right direction. But we need to go further if we want America to continue to be a global leader in the tech industry. Our leaders must work across the aisle and continue to think creatively about immigration policies that attract and keep top talent, so that American-based tech companies can invest and expand here, rather than in other countries where they can readily find the talent they require. Our message to the world should be “Innovators are welcome here.”

Bobbie Kilberg is President and CEO of Northern Virginia Technology Council.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.