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Congress considers job creating visa reform

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Attempt to spur job creation by securing highly skilled talent of foreign-born workers

The House of Representatives considered today a proposal to provide up to 55,000 new employment-based visas (green cards) for highly skilled workers. The legislation, known as the STEM Jobs Act of 2012, failed to receive the 2/3 vote necessary to pass and was defeated by a vote of 257-158. The legislation would have created a new visa category for foreign-born graduates of U.S. universities who earn an advanced degree in the areas of science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Intel supported this legislation and encouraged members of congress to vote for it.

This issue, at its core, is about job creation in America. The national unemployment average is above 8% but in STEM fields, where we have a shortage of talent, the unemployment rate for engineers is around 3%. Additional visas for STEM graduates will ensure we have access to the talent we need to help our companies grow and create new opportunities for American workers.

The issue of high skilled immigration is often misunderstood. Highly skilled foreign workers do not take the place of American’s with similar abilities, they fill skills gaps in our domestic workforce and often generate new jobs for American workers. Highly skilled employees are vital to the continued success of Intel. They help us expand our technological knowledge, create new products, and develop innovative manufacturing techniques.

The proposal that was considered today had the support of nearly all Republicans but was opposed by most Democrats who supported the concept but disagreed on where the visas should come from. Democrats lined up behind an alternative version of the legislation, known as the Attracting the Best and Brightest Act of 2012. Even had the STEM Jobs Act passed the House it was unlikely the Senate would consider the legislation this year.

However it is achieved, the addition of new STEM visas is critically important to Intel and all employers who depend on a highly skilled workforce. At Intel we have thousands of employees who are working on temporary visas and waiting in lines that stretch for years to receive their permanent, employment-based visa. During this waiting period, our colleagues are restricted in the activities they can perform, their opportunities to move up within the company are limited, and their personal lives are unsettled.

Despite the failure of this bill to pass, it is encouraging to see a consensus develop in Congress around the idea that highly skilled workers are essential to our nation’s growth and prosperity. Both political parties recognize that foreign-born students who are educated in the United States should be allowed, and encouraged, to remain in this country and contribute to established companies like Intel and start-up companies we have not year heard of. The legislative process was designed to be slow and painstaking, and on this issue it certainly has been. But the support expressed this week for the differing Republican and Democratic proposals can be seen as a sign that our deeply divided political parties are inching toward consensus on this important issue.