A STEM skills day of reckoning

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Every April, companies large and small send applications to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) hoping to secure highly-coveted H-1B visas in 2018.

As has been the case in recent years, the USCIS was inundated with hundreds of thousands of applications and within hours, the application window was closed. Only 85,000 applications will be approved, including 65,000 for those with special technical skills and 20,000 for master’s degree holders who will be able to work in the United States in support of our vital math, sciences, engineering and IT professions.

This specialized visa program, however, has generated debate. Some have suggested restrictions to the H-1B program, or even its elimination. There are anecdotes of citizen employees being told their jobs could be taken by H-1B visa holders.

But the facts refute this assertion. Employers are struggling to find enough qualified applicants to fill open IT and STEM positions every day. At the current rate, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2020 there will be a 1.4-million-person gap between demand for software development jobs and applicants qualified to fill those positions.

Our 21st century economy demands the best talent the world has to offer, while at the same time we face a massive domestic skills shortage in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Employers simply cannot find enough talent needed to fill these positions, and must resort to looking outside our borders to fill that void.

In March, a Career Advisory Board report on America’s skills gap identified more than half a million open computing jobs nationwide, but found that fewer than 43,000 computer science graduates entered the U.S. workforce last year.

The larger issue here is not the H-1B visa program itself, but the failure of our education system to produce the high-skilled workforce needed for companies to flourish in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.

 

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