High-tech operations like our labs at the Nebraska Center for Excellence in Electronics rely on the availability of high skilled workers. But there just aren’t enough available in Nebraska. I’m concerned about how I will replace two current workers that wish to remain in the states and work whose visas require they leave after completing a year of on-the-job training.
This risk of losing highly trained and talented individuals due to a seemingly arbitrary cap on the number of visas is ridiculous. Let’s remove this obstacle to innovation and allow our economic engine to accelerate.
I know that I am not alone in my employment worries. Companies throughout the country have sounded the alarm that the American workforce is underprepared to staff the increasingly tech-focused economy. We need a direct influx of workers skilled in science, technology, engineering and math – the STEM disciplines. And we need to seriously amp up the STEM education of our youth so they will be prepared for the high-tech jobs of the future.
The SKILLS Visa Act—which was introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa in the spring—addresses both of these issues. Immediately, it increases the number of H-1B visas available to foreign workers with specialized skills. The current H-1B visa ceiling has not been increased since the early 1990s and does not keep pace with the needs of the American technology and innovation sector.
With a higher number of visas available, businesses will be able to recruit, train and hire talented international students who are now attending our colleges and universities – and who want to stay and work here. By decreasing the difficulty of transitioning between a student visa and work visa companies will be able to focus on using all available highly talented individuals (regardless of nationality) to continue to innovate and solve our highly technical issues. Our companies will retain the intellectual capital as we compete on the global playing field.
While this boost in visas will help in the short-term, the United States must also prepare for a future where more of our children are trained in STEM fields and are capable of filling jobs in electronics labs. The SKILLS Visa Act recommends allocating the additional money raised by the increase in visas to a dedicated STEM education fund. This fund would be available to all states and could be used to augment classroom resources, better teacher training, or improve community college STEM programs.
The state of Nebraska could find multitude ways to put this STEM fund to good use. Less than half of our eighth graders are performing at proficient levels in mathematics and science according to state exams. This insufficiency at the grade school level translates to a very low percentage of students deciding to pursue degrees in STEM fields. During the 2008-2009 school years, only about 11 percent of college degrees and certificates were awarded in STEM majors. We can do better than this and the SKILLS Visa Acts’ STEM fund is the right place to start.
For the immediate needs of the business community and the long-term employment of Americans, The SKILLS Visa Act is a win-win solution that Congress should pass straightaway.