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Immigration Reform 2016 News – Facebook and Microsoft Say STEM, Immigrants Help U.S. Tech Companies Stay Competitive

First Posted: Jul 30, 2016 10:25 AM EDT
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Representatives from the country's most affluent companies challenged the next presidential administration to revise education and immigration programs during a Democratic National Convention forum on Wednesday.

Members of the nonpartisan Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, which pushes for scientific and technological advancements, urged lawmakers to reform longstanding immigration laws that limit how long individuals can work or study in the United States. The panelists also said a lack of enthusiasm for STEM - science, technology, engineering, and mathematics - education programs among minorities makes it difficult to compete globally.

"This is no longer a Microsoft, Facebook, or Amazon issue," said Brad Smith, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer, according to CNET. "Companies are only as good as the people we hire." Smith added that improving and propagating such programs begins with government.

Washington state Rep. Suzan DelBene suggested simply broadening STEM programs in rural communities so youths could discover careers they may not have envisioned. Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan said making internet access affordable is also an important factor.

"Infrastructure is a key pillar this agenda," Egan said.

Immigration in the 2016 Presidential Election

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is a staunch proponent of President Obama's immigration reform efforts. During her DNC acceptance speech on Thursday, Clinton said she keeping undocumented families together amid calls for mass deportations is "the right thing to do."

Clinton's campaign website states that she plans to "staple" a green card to STEM masters or PhD from accredited institutions. The former Secretary of State says will alleviate some of the visa backlogs preventing educated individuals from "coming to, staying in, and creating jobs in America."

Last month, Clinton proposed federally-funded grant programs for teachers pursing STEM degrees and student in need of student loan deferrals.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, whose anti-immigration policies include deporting all undocumented immigrants and banning all incoming travelers from countries with terrorist ties, believes the STEM shortage is a myth.

"We graduate two times more Americans with STEM degrees each year than find STEM jobs, yet as much as two-thirds of entry-level hiring for IT jobs is accomplished through the H-1B program," reads an excerpt from Trump's immigration plan. H-1B is a non-immigrant visa given to temporary guest workers.

Trump proposed raising the minimum wage for H-1B hires so companies would not hire low-paid workers. This, the real estate magnate said, will "improve the number of black, Hispanic and female workers in Silicon Valley who have been passed over in favor of the H-1B program."

Obama, Tech Companies Reach Out to STEM Students

Nearly half a million unfilled job vacancies in the U.S. are in information technology fields, according to a White House report release last November. That is why the Obama administration launched TechHire, a 35-city initiative aimed at helping students seek tech jobs.

In February, Obama asked the Department of Education to divide $4 billion in federal funds to states that produce suitable five-year computer science education plans. The funding will allows school districts to "ensure all students have the chance to participate, including girls and underrepresented minorities."

Companies like Google and Salesforce.org showed their support, pledging a total of $60 million, according to the White House.

Silicon Valley companies compose the nascent Computer Science Education Coalition, led by prominent American CEO's and civil rights groups which include the League of United Latin American Citizens and the National Puerto Rican Coalition.

The original members include Facebook, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon. One of their first acts was asking Congress to invest $250 million in 5-12 computer science education, if only because universities only graduate about 43,000 computer science students a year.

Last April, many joined governors and educators in penning a letter to Congress saying they would contribute $48 million to show their commitment.

"Technology is transforming society at an unprecedented rate," the letter read. "Whether it's smartphones or social networks, self-driving cards or personalized medicine, nothing embodies the American Dream so much as the opportunity to change or even reinvent the world with technology."

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