May 14th, 2007 | Published in Google Public Policy
Google's continued success depends on our ability to recruit and retain the best and brightest. One of the tools we've used to do that is the U.S. H-1B visa program, which allows foreign-born workers with specialized skills to work in the U.S. on a temporary basis.
Unfortunately, the current program just isn't keeping pace with the number of high-skilled immigrants who want to work at companies like Google. Last month, the U.S. government started accepting applications for H-1B visas for the period starting this fall, and was quickly swamped with more than 123,000 petitions in just the first two days. Because Congress has only allowed 65,000 visas each year, they are being awarded by a lottery system.
Why does this matter? In disciplines like math, science and engineering, half or more of the post-graduate degrees at U.S. universities are awarded to foreign nationals, and keeping those workers in the U.S. is key to our future economic growth. In fact, immigrants have played a critical role in the explosion of the U.S. Internet economy. According to the National Venture Capital Association, over the past 15 years one out of every four public companies backed by venture capital was started by an immigrant -- including Google and eBay. Here at Google, about seven to ten percent of our U.S.-based employees are in the U.S. on an H-1B visa. Without these employees, we might not be able to develop future life-changing products like the next Gmail or Google Earth.
When there aren't enough H-1B visas, some of our most talented employees have to leave the U.S. When that happens we do our best to relocate those Googlers to one of our other offices around the world, although we'd much prefer to have them stay working here in the U.S. (their expertise may be best suited to projects we're working on in the U.S., plus we don't have offices everywhere). When we can't relocate them, we may lose them entirely.
So we need to reform the H-1B program -- especially by expanding the number of visas awarded each year. This is an essential step toward keeping the U.S. high-tech industry competitive with the rest of the world.
To press this issue, Google recently joined a coalition called Compete America, a group of companies, educators, research groups and trade associations that is working hard on these issues in Washington. Increasing the annual cap on H-1Bs is the group's top priority, and we'll be working with Congress to enact reforms to the program. Our goal is to accomplish immigration reform for high-skilled workers before the 2008 presidential elections and hopefully sooner.