Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Bill Gates eats his cake

Bill Gates was in Washington today to testify in front of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. In his testimony (PDF), he said:

A top priority must be to reverse our dismal high school graduation rates – with a target of doubling the number of young people who graduate from high school ready for college, career, and life – and to place a major emphasis on encouraging careers in math and science.
He also said:
College and graduate students are simply not obtaining science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (“STEM”) degrees in sufficient numbers to meet demand. The number of undergraduate engineering degrees awarded in the United States fell by about 17 percent between 1985 and 2004.

Unfortunately, he then goes on to say:

...the terrible shortfall in our visa supply for the highly skilled stems not from security concerns, but from visa policies that have not been updated in over a decade and a half... I personally witness the ill effects of these policies on an almost daily basis at Microsoft. Under the current system, the number of H1-B visas available runs out faster and faster each year... Barring high-skilled immigrants from entry to the U.S., and forcing the ones that are here to leave because they cannot obtain a visa, ultimately forces U.S. employers to shift development work and other critical projects offshore.

So, on the one hand, Bill Gates wants more Americans to seek technology careers. On the other hand, he wants the ability to hire more immigrants. From a potential student's point of view, these seem contradictory goals, the latter reducing the attractiveness of such careers by decreasing pay and security and therefore decreasing the number of students who might want to major in technology fields. From Bill's point of view, they are entirely consistent: increase the supply of labor to drive down its cost. (Boy, I hate sounding like Lou Dobbs.)

Oh, and in case you thought Bill's point of view was purely that of a disinterested philanthropist, he also lobbied for tax breaks for his and similar companies.

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