High-Tech Talent, Go Home

AS ANTI-IMMIGRANT FEELING grows in this country, so do the personnel troubles for America’s high-technology companies, many of them based in Dallas. Local computer and telecommunication firms have hundreds of high-paying jobs for highly skilled engineers. But there is a shortage of qualified Americans, and the immigration process makes it difficult to hire foreigners with college degrees. And if a local congressman has his way, the task will get even harder.

According to the Institute for International Education, foreign nationals comprise only about 9 percent of the two million graduate students in the United States, yet they account for about 50 percent of those enrolled in engineering programs. That’s why Texas Instruments, with about 400 current openings for engineers, sees no way of rilling the positions with home-grown talent.

“We would like to see more Americans take these jobs,” says Cathy Sang, a spokesperson for TI. “But we simply cannot find enough American students with the specialized technical skills we’re looking for. “

And now, proposed legislation could make it even tougher for companies like TI to draw engineers from the foreign labor pool. U.S. Rep. John Bryant, co-sponsor of a House bill that will limit employment-based immigration, says he wants to strengthen restrictions on companies who hire large numbers of foreign graduates.

“They are displacing American workers,” says the Dallas Democrat. “If they can’t employ Americans then it’s necessary to better train our citizens for these jobs.”

But some fear that bringing Americans up to par in the high-tech industry could take decades and leave U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage. “These people [foreign students] are the crème de la crème,” says Sang. “If we can’t hire them, they will find jobs with our competitors around the globe. That certainly isn’t good for American companies.”

David Swairn, a Dallas immigration attorney, takes a dim view of the Americans-First feeling in the Congress.

“U.S. companies do not employ foreigners when there are qualified Americans available. For some reason the representatives in Congress see it as cheap foreign labor taking American jobs. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

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