At conservative meeting, Google exec urges Congress to increase skilled work visas

AP and WiG reports

The executive chairman at Google this week called on Congress to increase the number of high-skilled work visas made available to foreigners but to deal with other immigration issues later on.

Eric Schmidt spoke on March 18 at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. Schmidt said he believes the United States is better off having more immigrants, not fewer, but he particularly is focused on allowing more immigrants into the U.S. with specialized technical skills.

“In the long list of stupid policies of the U.S. government, I think our attitude toward immigration has got to be near the top,” Schmidt said in answering a question about the biggest policy change he would like to see the federal government make.

“We take very, very smart people, bring them into the country, give them a diploma and kick them out where they go on to create companies that compete with us,” Schmidt said. “Brilliant strategy.”

Schmidt said that increasing the number of H-1B visas, a program that’s separate from the student visa program, would grow the economy because many immigrants will go on to start their own businesses and hire workers. He also said he believes a majority of lawmakers from both parties agree on this point, which is why they should deal with other aspects of immigration reform separately.

A bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah would expand the current annual cap on H-1B visas from 65,000 to between 115,000 and 195,000 visas depending upon market condition and demand. But a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday reinforced that some top lawmakers are strongly opposed to expanding the program. They argued that the U.S. has plenty of high-skilled workers, but companies would rather look elsewhere because it’s cheaper.

“Over the years the program has become a government-assisted way for employers to bring in cheaper foreign labor, and now it appears these foreign workers take over, rather than complement, the U.S. workforce,” said the committee’s chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama said American schools are graduating twice as many students specializing in science, technology, engineering and math than there are jobs to fill in those specialties.

“It has nothing to do with trying to find the best and brightest,” Sessions said of the H-1B visa program’s proposed expansion.

The American Enterprise Institute says it is focus is on “expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity and strengthening free enterprise.”

Right Wing Watch, a program supported by the People for the American Way, says AEI is is “one of the oldest and most influential of the pro-business right-wing think tanks. It promotes the advancement of free enterprise capitalism and has been extremely successful in placing its people in influential governmental positions, particularly in the Bush Administration. AEI has been described as one of the country’s main bastions of neoconservatism.”

Right Wing Watch said AEI’s “areas of interest include: America’s ‘culture war,’ domestic policy and federal spending, education reform, neoconservatism, affirmative action and welfare reform.”