DETROIT FREE PRESS
By Nathan Borney
September 12, 2012
Tech leaders speaking at a conference in Detroit on Wednesday echoed a shared frustration that the U.S. government is squelching innovation by making it difficult for educated and entrepreneurial immigrants to live in the country.
Several executives who spoke at David Kirkpatricks Techonomy conference at Wayne State University said the government needs to adjust its immigration policies to welcome immigrants who have earned high-tech degrees or are starting businesses.
SalesForce.com Executive Vice President Vivek Kundra, former chief information officer of the United States, said it makes absolutely no sense for the U.S. to force immigrants to move back home after they earn high-tech degrees and training from U.S. universities.
"Why aren't we stapling right to their graduate education a visa or a green card?" Kundra said.
It's a common complaint from tech executives who want access to a fresh pool of talent in areas like software engineering. Many immigrants are given student visas to study at U.S. universities, but they must leave the country after graduation.
Steve Case, co-founder of AOL, said the government should ask them to stay or make it easier for them to stay.
"These are the people who create the Googles and the Fords," Case said.
The concept of encouraging high-tech immigration has some bipartisan backing in Washington. President Barack Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney have expressed some level of support for the idea. But legislation has consistently stalled on Capitol Hill.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican who once served as president of computer-maker Gateway, is pushing the states congressional delegation to advocate for more high-tech immigrants.
Michael Teitelbaum, a Wertheim Fellow at Harvard Law School and senior advisor for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, said the U.S. immigration system is entrenched and hard to change. He said it is designed to deal primarily with families, not immigrants who could boost the U.S. economy.
On the skills side, we have a dominance of temporary immigration over permanent immigration. "That is not healthy," Teitelbaum said. "It's not that you need more immigration. It's that you need to have a better balance within the immigration system."