More than 100 chief executives of major tech companies and trade associations — including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer — urged President Obama and Congress on Thursday to reform the existing immigration rules for highly-skilled workers.
In a letter sent to the president and lawmakers, the tech heavyweights said the need to hire and retain skilled foreign and domestic workers is one of the top economic challenges facing the country and the existing immigration laws are a hurdle to addressing this issue. They argue that high-skilled immigrants have gone on to create companies like Google, eBay and Yahoo, which have driven job and economic growth in the United States.
“Yet because our current immigration system is outdated and inefficient, many high-skilled immigrants who want to stay in America are forced to leave because they are unable to obtain permanent visas. Some do not bother to come in the first place," the letter reads. "This is often due to visa shortages, long waits for green cards, and lack of mobility."
The letter comes as both chambers of Congress are hammering out legislation aimed at overhauling the nation's immigration laws. President Obama is pushing for Congress to clear a bill this year and has made comprehensive immigration reform a top priority after securing more than half of the Latino vote in the November election.
Both parties back high-skilled immigration reform but past bills have stalled after getting tangled up in the wider immigration debate. This year, tech trade associations have acknowledged that their best chance of reforming the immigration rules for foreign high-skilled workers is have a measure included in a comprehensive immigration package.
Tech companies have been pushing Congress for years to free up more green cards and increase the number of temporary worker visas for foreign highly-skilled workers and graduates from U.S universities with degrees in technical fields.
The executives also voiced support in the letter for two Senate bills that are dedicated to reforming the immigration laws for high-skilled workers, the Immigration Innovation Act and the Startup Visa Act. The former bill would significantly increase the number of H-1B temporary worker visas for high-skilled workers and free up more green cards for them. There has been some pushback growing against the H-1B program in Congress.
In recent years, tech giants have argued that the U.S. isn't producing enough graduates with the advanced technical skills needed to fill the several open engineering and research positions they have. In their letter, the tech executives note that IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Oracle combined have 10,000 job openings in the U.S.
"We know what it will take to keep America in a position of global leadership. We know that when America is leading, our economic growth follows to the benefit of our nation’s workforce," the executives write. “We call on you to address the need for more qualified, highly-skilled professionals, domestic and foreign, and to enact immigration reform this year."
Other signatories on the letter include AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman, Intel CEO Paul Otellini, Consumer Electronics Association CEO Gary Shapiro and Information Technology Industry Council CEO Dean Garfield. The letter was spearheaded by tech trade group TechNet.