The foreign-worker problem faced by tech companies is played out in the struggle over so-called H-1B visas, which are awarded to foreign nationals who attend American universities and want to work for U.S. companies. This year the government allocated 65,000 of the visas. Tech companies, eager to land well-educated and highly skilled employees from abroad, say that's too few. "Historically, America has succeeded because the best and the brightest come here," says Maeder of Highland Capital Partners.
A sweeping 2007 immigration bill proposed raising the cap on the visas to 115,000 in 2008, but it was defeated in the Senate in June. Microsoft is taking matters into its own hands. In September the company opened a development office in Vancouver, Canada, largely to employ foreign workers who were prohibited from employment in the U.S. "We haven't given up hope," Krumholtz says.
McCain was a strong supporter of President Bush's attempt at immigration reform, which also included a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and measures to strengthen border security. According to McCain policy director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, standalone H-1B legislation could also be a possibility. In a policy paper written for BusinessWeek.com, the McCain campaign says the Arizona senator supports expansion of the H-1B cap but that the measure alone won't make the U.S. more competitive. "Opening new and integrated world markets won't automatically translate into higher quality of life for every American," the paper says, echoing a position taken by opponents of H-1Bs. The government should do more to help U.S. workers get education and training, McCain's campaign says.
Edwards' position may be seen as less tech-friendly. He would require employers to show they couldn't have given an H-1B job to an American, and he would increase fees for companies that employ H-1B workers, his campaign says.
Now, first off, "tech" isn't just the interest of tech shareholders. I would suggest that low-cost H-1b visas are similar to paying farmers not to grow crops. You get higher prices at the expense of a loss of overall productivity capacity. These Visas are extremely valuable. Edward's proposed fee increases are nowhere near the level that would be necessary to equalize supply and demand. Doing that would require something like an auction. Now, with an auction, tech companies could get a visa pretty much whenever they really needed-and were willing and able to pay. The proceeds could be used for something like education of US technical workers-or R&D grants, that would tend to benefit tech companies-so the net cost to tech companies would be zero—but the relative cost of US tech workers and foreign tech workers would change substantially.
The thing is, this isn't about technical competitiveness of the USA, or helping poor people in India or China. It is about maintaining huge corporate welfare grants that benefit the wealthy in the US.