Policy Stands in the Way of U.S. IT Job Growth

An IT trade group says that more IT jobs will go overseas unless the annual cap on H-1B visas is increased and permanent residency is given to foreign nationals who graduate from U.S. universities. 

The software industry continues to do well and drive much of the tech economy, but needs legislative support, said a report released Jan. 24 by the Washington-based Software Information and Industry Association.

Though the industry employs more than 2.7 million U.S. workers, up 17 percent between 1996 and 2006 in high-wage jobs, with an average wage of $75,400, the report says that this hinges on strong U.S. investment in information technology and a supportive public policy environment.

"We are always looking for policies that will increase U.S. competitiveness, reduce intellectual property protections and trade barriers," David LeDuc, director of public policy for SIIA, told eWEEK.

The SIIA report said there is little question whether there is a shortage of high-skilled and highly educated workers in STEM fields.

"A long-term solution is needed," LeDuc said. "You can't flip a switch and engineer a work force for tomorrow. Nobody wants to rely on immigration to meet the work force's needs."

But not all reports agree. The nonpartisan policy research group Urban Institute reviewed previous analysis of U.S. STEM shortages last October and found no support for such claims.

"I don't want to knock previous tests and reports," Hal Salzman, senior research associate at the Urban Institute, a Washington D.C. think tank, told eWEEK at the time. "They're difficult topics and they are hard to tackle, but the conclusions don't support the interpretations they're given."

The SIIA feels that the way to keep the U.S. competitive is to loosen caps on immigration, which they consider "arbitrary."

"Given that we are now a global economy, we should never be setting arbitrary caps or discouraging people from coming to the U.S.," said LeDuc, but he doesn't think that H-1B visas are the only solution.

"The bigger picture is a matter of permanent immigration and there's a shortage of green cards," LeDuc said. "Most of our companies don't want to bring in workers on a temporary basis and then ship them back home. They want more than temporary workers."