Microsoft Pushes Jobs, Immigration Reform, U.S. Tech Investment

Microsoft went to Washington to lobby for immigration reform and increased federal investment to drive more workers to the high-tech industry, which the company says is in “crisis” mode.

Microsoft’s Mr. Smith went to Washington to lobby the federal government to relax immigration regulations to allow more technology workers into the country as well as to invest more in cultivating more homegrown tech workers for the U.S. workforce.

Microsoft’s Mr. Smith is Brad Smith, the software giant’s executive vice president and general counsel, who is indeed no stranger to D.C., as he has headed many of Microsoft’s dealings with the federal government on antitrust and other issues. Yet this time Smith came to Washington to renew Microsoft’s request for the government to help boost the tech economy.

Microsoft, IBM, Intel and a host of other high-tech firms have long been pushing for the government to allow more foreign workers into the country to work and fill some of the thousands of technology jobs that go unfilled. Indeed, Smith cited the high-value opportunities afforded by high tech and the low unemployment rate in the field as reasons for the government to assist in growing the pool of trained workers.

In a post on Microsoft’s Website, Smith said, “The United States faces a growing economic challenge—a substantial and increasing shortage of individuals with the skills needed to fill the new jobs the private sector is creating. Throughout the nation and in a wide range of industries, there is an urgent demand for workers trained in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—yet there are not enough people with the necessary skills to meet that demand.

"Our nation faces the paradox of a crisis in unemployment at the same time that many companies cannot fill the jobs they have to offer. In addition to the short-term consequences for businesses and individuals, we risk these jobs migrating from the U.S., creating even bigger challenges for our long-term competitiveness and economic growth,” he continued.

Smith added that Microsoft spends more on research and development than any other company, and 83 percent of that is invested in the U.S. Last year, Microsoft spent $9.4 billion on R&D, Intel spent $8.4 billion, IBM spent $6.3 billion, Cisco spent $5.6 billion and Google spent $5.2 billion, and the majority of that was in the U.S.

“Like other companies across the information technology sector, we are creating new jobs in the U.S. faster than we can fill them,” Smith said. “We now have more than 6,000 open jobs in the country, an increase of 15 percent over the last year. More than 3,400 of these jobs are for researchers, developers and engineers, and this total has grown by 34 percent over the past 12 months.”

Microsoft published a whitepaper documenting ideas for a National Talent Strategy that would help secure U.S. competitiveness and economic growth. And while in Washington on Sept. 27, Smith shared those ideas in a speech at the Brookings Institution.

“While the overall unemployment rate hovers around 8 percent, unemployment in computer-related occupations has fallen to 3.4 percent,” Smith said. “Too few American students–especially students who have historically been underserved and under-represented–are achieving the levels of education required to secure jobs in innovation-based industries. An effective national talent strategy, therefore, needs to combine long-term improvements in STEM education in the United States with targeted, short-term, high-skilled immigration reforms.”

To that end, Smith proposed immigration reform in the following forms: First, Congress should create a new, supplemental category with 20,000 visas annually for STEM skills that are in short supply; additionally, Congress should take advantage of prior unused green cards by making a supplemental allocation of 20,000 new green card slots for workers with STEM skills.

Smith added, “To push the changes needed in the STEM education pipeline, we believe the country needs a national Race to the Future initiative that would provide incentives and financial resources for the states to strengthen STEM education.”

Microsoft said this initiative should include, among other things, funding for states to:

  • strengthen K-12 STEM education by providing additional resources to recruit and train STEM teachers and implement Common Core State Standards and Next-Generation Science Standards that will better prepare students for college and work in these disciplines;
  • broaden access to computer science in high school to ensure that all students have the opportunity to gain this foundational knowledge and explore careers in computing;
  • expand higher-education capacity to produce more STEM degrees, including a particular focus on computer science degrees; and
  • address our national crisis in college completion by helping students who start college to finish it faster.

Moreover, “because education and immigration opportunities should go hand-in-hand, we believe it would be appropriate to require employers to make a meaningful financial commitment toward developing the American STEM pipeline in exchange for these new visas and green cards,” Smith said. “Those funds would help pay for the STEM education investments across the country which would be part of a Race to the Future initiative. We believe this approach could raise up to $500 million per year, or $5 billion over a decade, that the federal government could use to distribute to states where the STEM education investments are needed.”

He also noted that Microsoft’s recently announced its YouthSpark program. Another way of addressing the STEM issue, YouthSpark is a cross-company commitment to create opportunities in education, employment or entrepreneurship for more than 50 million young people in the United States, and 300 million worldwide.

Meanwhile, according to the Brookings Institution:

The United States faces a serious threat to its leadership in the global economy: a skills and talent deficit. American companies urgently need professionals trained in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, but there are not enough workers with the necessary skills and too few Americans earn post-secondary STEM credentials. As a result, employers are often unable to fill high-skilled domestic jobs with high-skilled American workers. Further, there is a crisis brewing for the next generation—a growing gap between the few young people prospering and those left behind because they lack the education, skills and opportunities to succeed.