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Tech Lifeline: Visa Bill Would Lift Detroit, Chamber Leader Says

From Deadline Detroit

September 14, 2013

A technology talent gap holds back local “businesses’ ability to compete in the global economy,” the Detroit Regional Chamber president writes in a Free Press guest column.

The corporate group backs a congressional effort to let more foreigners study engineering technology, science and math here and work in those fields “until America’s schools start producing more tech-savvy graduates,” Sandy Baruah explains.

Employers have long been frustrated in their efforts to recruit foreign tech talent because U.S. immigration policy limits visas to only 65,000 a year. That inadequate limit has been in place for more than 20 years, even though immigrant workers with degrees or special training in STEM and computer science are a prime source of talent for U.S. companies. . . .

Michigan won’t get highly skilled immigrants without an expanded supply of skilled-worker visas. . . . Detroit would be a natural destination for these highly skilled workers, as well as the global investors and business that follow such employees.

Baruah, who also is the chamber’s CEO, notes that at this summer’s Mackinac Policy Conference, “Gov. Rick Snyder, reminded us that there are 60,000 unfilled jobs because of the shortage of highly skilled workers in Michigan.”

The immigration reform his group backs, which passed the Senate in June and faces an uncertain fate in the House, is known as the SKILLS Visa Act. It would boost the number of entry permits in a category called H1-B for foreigners with special training or seeking technical degrees.

MSU also urges passage, the Free Press reports in a separate article from the Gannett Washington Bureau.

“Graduate students, especially in the STEM fields, are a key element of the enterprise for basic research that drives the development of the next technologies,” said Mark Burnham, MSU’s vice president for government affairs, who has lobbied Congress on the issue. “And we’d like to keep that talent here.” . . .

“We’re not displacing U.S. students,” Burnham said. “In fact, we’re desperate for more.” . . .

Michigan State has the ninth-largest foreign student population among U.S. schools — more than 6,200, according to the Institute of International Education.

In June, MSU’s College of Engineering announced an agreement to exchange students and scholars with Aligarh Muslim University in northern India.