Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Immigration Reform as a Key to Productivity Growth in Tech Firms

In the reading “What Happens Next? Five Crucibles of Innovation that will Shape the Coming Decade,” authors Peter Bisson, Rik Kirkland, Elizabeth Stephenson, and Patrick Viguerie argue that the key to retaining the historical growth in wealth in western nations is to ensure continued improvements in productivity. Specifically the article mentions advocating for policy changes like immigration reform as one way to improve producvity. This reminded me of an interview between Charlie Rose and Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO and COO respectively of Facebook (I highly recommend watching it, during the interview they talk extensively about Facebook’s strategy the link is footnoted at the bottom).[1] During the interview Sheryl Sandberg listed as one of the chief concerns of the company-attracting and filling technical positions.

Currently, only 65,000 high skilled worker visas (H-1B) are distributed each year. [2]This number is hardly enough to meet the demand for labor in the technical field, let along other fields like engineering and research and development that would compete for high skilled workers. The result is a highly contentious system where tech firms compete for a very few number of workers. Without easing these restrictions American companies can suffer from a serious disadvantage, allowing foreign competitors to enter the market. However, with reform tech companies would be allowed to develop their domestic companies while staying on the cutting edge of innovation. In the Charlie Rose interview, Sandberg listed as an argument for immigration reform an instance where a H-1B visa employee created an innovation in the Facebook that lead to the expansion of the service into several new markets. Without, this individual’s competition Facebook would literally not be company it is today.

As companies adjust to the global market and the ascendancy of developing nations, the United States will have to focus on increasing productivity as one of their key strategic goals if they want to retain their position. There are many possible solutions to this problem but for tech companies immigration reform with respect to H-1 B visa employees could help fuel the economy, create more domestic jobs, and increase American companies competitive edge. My question is should this be the primary way to ensure continued productivity in tech firms or should companies focus on other strategic options given the political nature of immigration reform. And if so what are some practical and effective productivity improvement measures that you would advocate for?

[1] http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/11987

[2] http://immigrationimpact.com/2011/11/10/even-facebook-feels-brunt-of-broken-u-s-immigration-policy/

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