Opinion: Education, not immigration

The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and other industrialised nations are in the process of relaxing immigration laws to lure skilled technology workers to their shores. These self-serving policies, however, are short sighted, doomed to fail and largely destined to produce one outcome: the pillaging of Asia's technology intellectual capital...and lead to possible geopolitical instability.

In Singapore, a country also experiencing a lack of IT workers, a recent editorial in the state-owned newspaper, The Straits Times, proclaimed "globalisation is not incompatible with good old-fashioned commercialism.... As was the case in the 19th century, the countries that will pay the price for this new labour market mercantilism are mostly in Asia.... It is not possible to lock up talent...Asian countries must fight back by fighting smart."

Well said, but the global free market, free agent, free-for-all competition for technology workers doesn't work that way. The current system produces only losers. Countries from which tech workers are lured lose the opportunity to nurture a human resource that could create new ideas, products, companies and jobs. And countries doing the luring lose as well. Imported technology workers have no long-term commitment--or opportunity--to remain in the country. Each job taken by a foreigner means one less job for a citizen.

In America, our booming economy produces 1.6 million technology jobs each year. But 800,000 of them go unfilled, according to a recent Information Technology Association of America study. Politics is dominating this debate. Congress--more interested in placating powerful and rich IT leaders than solving the problem--is paying political lip service to this issue by raising the H1-B visa cap annually to 200,000. Do the math: Under this plan America falls behind by 600,000 tech jobs each year.

The answer? Industrialised countries need public policy programs designed to educate rather than immigrate.

Higher education institutions are experiencing a dramatic surge in student enrolment in technology courses. That's good. The bad news is that there are not enough qualified full-time professors to handle the increased course enrolment. The Western business community, the very sector most affected by the skilled worker shortage, must offer up its best and brightest technology workers as adjunct professors to help educate the growing masses of youth looking to pursue a technology career. What do chief information officers think about that idea?

Once a technology professor-student equilibrium in the West has been reached, the United States and other nations must reverse track and embark on exporting skilled technology workers to developing nations through programs not unlike the Peace Corps. In the wired world of the 21st century, continued national technology policies based on self-serving protectionism help no one.

Gary Beach is the Publisher of CIO (US).

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