By Paul McDougall
November 30, 2012 12:27 PM
Microsoft officials this week defended their call for a program that would let companies pay to import foreign programmers and other high-tech workers.
"Every year the economy is requiring another 120,000 people with a computer science degree," said Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith, in response to a question at the company's annual shareholder meeting.
"Right now, if you take all of the great, or not so great, all of the universities across the country, they're only producing 40,000 computer science graduates each year," Smith said Wednesday, in Bellevue, Wash.
Smith was responding to a shareholder who said Microsoft shouldn't be seeking to import high-tech help at a time when so many Americans are unemployed. The questioner said he knew numerous individuals in their 50s who, despite advanced computer science degrees from MIT and other prestigious schools, can't get work.
Smith said that, although some individuals might fall through the cracks, overall there is a shortage of tech workers in the U.S. "The answer is for any specific individual there may be some specific circumstance that explains a specific result in their life. But when we look at the numbers today, the numbers don't lie," said Smith.
Smith said Microsoft currently has more than 6,000 open jobs, up 19% from a year ago. In engineering alone, the company has 3,400 open positions, up 34% from last year. "We'd like to fill them here," said Smith, adding that it's difficult for Microsoft and other U.S. companies to find all the talent they need domestically.
Smith recently called on Congress to increase the number of high-tech visas available for foreign IT workers. He said the government should issue 20,000 STEM-specific visas each year, in addition to the 65,000 H-1B visas currently available. He also called for 20,000 new green cards for tech workers. Smith said the government should charge companies $10,000 per visa for the former, and $15,000 for the latter.
Sure to fuel the debate over whether the U.S. needs to import more high-tech workers is a report released Friday by the Partnership for A New American Economy.
The lobby group said the unemployment rate for tech workers in the U.S. is just 3.15%, compared to around 8% for all workers. "Given that the U.S. government has defined 'full employment' to be 4 percent, this suggests a skills shortage of STEM professionals with advanced degrees," the group said in the report, titled "Help Wanted."
Groups that represent U.S.-born tech workers, such as The Programmers Guild, have argued that programs like H-1B allow American companies to import cheap labor at the expense of homegrown talent.
On Friday, the House approved a bill that would make 55,000 new green cards available to foreign-born graduates of advanced U.S. STEM programs.
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