Nation Needs to Import More Tech Workers

Published March 1, 2009

Current government policy controlling and regulating technology work by foreign-born researchers in the United States is “broken” and “quietly undermine[s] our national security and economic well-being,” according to a recent report by the National Research Council of the National Academies.

The first remedy, according to “Beyond Fortress America—National Security Controls on Science and Technology in a Globalised World,” is for President Barack Obama to streamline unwieldy bureaucratic guidelines through an executive order.

The report states “science and engineering degree-holders who prefer, after graduation, to work in the U.S. should have ready access to permission for long-term stays.”

“Traditionally, the United States had to worry about science and technology flowing out of the country,” write the authors, who include Brent Scowcroft, a former national security advisor for the Ford and Bush I administrations.

“In today’s conditions,” the report continues, “the U.S. must make sure that advanced science and technology will continue to flow into the country. … The U.S. cannot protect [domestic] jobs by denying entry to foreign professionals; jobs will simply go abroad.”

Unwieldy Export Controls

The report’s authors say the nation’s technology export controls are unwieldy. They recommend an automatic sunset process under which some technology items come up regularly for removal from the lists.

Eric Darr, provost and executive vice president of the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania, said his organization was created in response to the phenomenon of Pennsylvania—and the United States—losing technology and workers to overseas firms.

“Technology follows the workers,” Darr said.

Possible Disadvantages

Scowcroft’s proposal is meant to create greater capacity for innovation by U.S. companies in the short term but would do nothing to spur them to use this additional available expertise, according to Darr.

The proposal to relax export controls could reduce the incentive to invest in innovation by U.S. firms, Darr said, because companies would believe their innovations would more freely be copied by foreign companies.

“If you release export controls, you have a greater reliance on a patent system which is questionable outside of Europe and parts of the United States,” Darr added.

Engineers Needed

Amjad Umar, Harrisburg University’s director of eBusiness and Management, said the United States needs more engineers.

“We don’t have the technical talent that is needed,” Umar said. “There’s a gap between the supply and the demand.”

For example, Umar said, wireless communications companies and many tech firms have a hard time finding the workers they need at the nation’s universities. While there are a large number of engineering students, many don’t have citizenship or even green cards.

Phil Britt ([email protected]) writes from South Holland, Illinois.

For more information …

“Beyond Fortress America—National Security Controls on Science and Technology in a Globalised World,” January 2009, National Research Council of the National Academies: