"I believe we have to secure our borders, but we must enact comprehensive immigration reforms. And we must make it our top priority," Senator John McCain told chief executives of several high-tech companies on Thursday, when he visited the Silicon Valley for a fundraiser event.
Praising the innovative strengths of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, McCain said California's booming technology industry was proof of American competitiveness and why the United States needs to keep international commerce as open as possible, without erecting new barriers that would impede progress and growth.
McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, was flanked by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former eBay President and CEO Meg Whitman, at a roundtable discussion on high-tech innovation on the production floor at Finelite, a maker of lighting systems for offices and schools.
The declaration came after several Silicon Valley CEOs complained about the need for highly skilled employees and the problems they face over the cap on visas for skilled workers.
This marked a definitive shift from what McCain had said while campaigning to secure his party's nomination. During the GOP Primary, McCain's support for bipartisan immigration reform had proved to be a liability within his own party.
Shellye Archambeau, CEO of software company MetricStream, told McCain she was concerned about the decline in the number of H-1B visas as well as the fact that foreign students earning graduate degrees here are leaving the US in increasing numbers.
The annual H1B visa availability has fallen by two-thirds since 9/11 attacks in United States, from 195,000 to 65,000 today.
"We should give them a diploma and staple a visa right at the same time, so they can stay," she said, prompting applause from the audience "The key point here is that immigration has fuelled the growth and innovation of this country since it was founded."
McCain expressed sympathy at the entrepreneurs' plight, asking them about the problems they face while in hiring skilled foreign workers.
Conrad Burke, President of Innovalight, a solar energy company, Burke quipped that he had become an expert on US immigration law over the past two years as he searched for qualified workers.
"It is difficult getting visas, there are caps," Burke said, who emigrated from Ireland to America a decade ago. "Certainly we need some help."
Vivek Ranadive, CEO of Tibco, who came from India to the US for college and graduate school and stayed to start a high-tech company, shared his own experience. He said this testifies the importance of welcoming talented immigrants. Innovation is a key to growth of America, Ranadive argued drawing applause.
"The innovation that is going on is going on in my backyard," he said "It will go on forever, as long as we continue to accept smart people."
However, Tibco currently employs only Americans and does not yet outsource to India. "I pay over $100,000 and yet face problems from workers who ask for overtime after 5 p.m." This makes it extremely difficult to sustain business in America, he argued.
[Email this Page] Email this Page | Write to us
Back | More
More H-1B visas, McCain's top priority
May 23, 2008
McCain who has not talked about immigration as frequently since securing the GOP nomination, took personal responsibility for Congress's failure to enact immigration reform last year
"Senator (Ted) Kennedy and I tried very hard to get immigration reform, a comprehensive plan, through Congress," McCain replied.
He said such reform is crucial to California's agricultural sector as well, which needs a temporary agriculture workers programme.
RockYou founder and CEO Lance Tokuda told McCain that low taxes are vital to the flow of venture capital dollars that make possible companies like his own.
McCain said it is 'indisputable' that reducing capital gains taxes produces higher revenues and the nation also must lower its corporate tax rates which are among the highest in the world.
Among the audience were former governor Pete Wilson, insurance commissioner Steve Poizner, Stanford University president John Hennessy and former Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell.