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International students could fill talent gap

Friday, July 8, 2016

In the world of high-tech, little is more important than human talent. Talent drives innovation, success and profits. Companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft have infamous reputations for acquiring talent at almost any cost – often from their competition. Talent that can’t be recruited or poached is often simply bought out and then integrated into the competitive strategy of their new parent corporation.

Clearly, in high tech, the competition for talent is fierce. The amount of talent being produced by U.S. institutions in science, engineering, math and technology can’t keep up with the existing employment demand in the high-tech sector. At the same time, a large number of high-tech professionals from the Baby Boom are retiring each year, so even with increasing numbers of STEM graduates, attrition and demand are widening the gap.

This creates a sort of feeding frenzy among tech companies for available tech talent, who may also be lured into academic or government employ. However, as the major players snap up the best and brightest, innovation throughout the sector decreases, because the best available talent is steered into the corporate directives of a limited number of firms.

One of the potential answers to the problems created by this shortage lies under our collective nose. With one of the world’s top post-secondary education systems, the U.S. attracts thousands of international students every year. International students, in fact, comprise almost a third of all students enrolled in post-secondary STEM programs in the United States.

The problem is that, once they graduate, many of these talented young individuals must return from whence they came – whether they want to or not. It is staggering to consider the amount of U.S.-trained tech talent is turned away from the American economy each year.

This alone demonstrates the lack of pragmatism in current U.S. immigration policy, which, in many ways is a remnant of Depression-era and Cold War protectionism. Study after study has shown that immigration is an economic driver, rather than a brake.

By increasing the quota on H-1B visa for specialty occupation professionals, especially, the government could help to ease the talent shortage that high tech is experiencing. This would not drag the economy, but would rather fuel it and increase American innovation on an international level.

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