US IT firms press Obama to increase number of STEM visas

The US presidential election cost over $2bn according the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a US think tank. For the first time, businesses were able to donate through Political Action Committees or PACs which has vastly increased the amount of money that both parties, Republicans and Democrats, had available to spend.

The CRP also reveals that US technology or 'tech' firms donated $7.1m to President Obama's election campaign. They did it because they believed that President Obama understands their needs, according to Seth Bannon, a New York tech entrepreneur. 'Our immigration system is fundamentally at odds with the needs of America start-ups [businesses],' Mr Bannon said in an interview with the Huffington Post. 'I think Obama gets it. You hear him talk about entrepreneurs more and more.'

Now that President Obama has been re-elected, IT firms will want him to reform the US's skilled immigration system as quickly as possible. Andrew Rasiej, chairman of NY Tech Meetup, a tech company based in New York's 'Silicon Alley, told the Huffington Post 'He hasn't done as much on tech as we would like but he's clearly leaning toward many of our policy goals'.

Mr Obama sent an open letter to NY Tech Meetup's 27,000 members before the election, promising to recruit 10,000 maths and science teachers and to provide 2m Americans with the necessary skills to work in high tech companies.

However, tech companies need staff now and even if the science teachers were recruited tomorrow, there won't be any more US born IT graduates for about a decade. Seth Bannon, who founded a social fundraising platform called Amicus, based in New York, says that he cannot find talented software developers, despite offering attractive employment terms, because most of the talented developers he seeks come from overseas and cannot get visas entitling them to live and work in the USA.

Before the elections held on November 6th 2012, there was some hope that the skilled visa regime would be reformed. Both the Republicans and the Democrats introduced legislation in 2012 which would have increased the number of highly skilled graduates to be granted visas but there was no change in the law because Congress is 'gridlocked'. This means that neither party has enough Congressmen and women to force legislation through without some support from the other side.

The Republicans introduced the STEM Jobs Act which would have allowed 55,000 foreign born graduates from US universities with degrees in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to apply for green cards (as US permanent resident permits are known). However, the Democrats in Congress would not back the measure because the act also proposed abolishing the annual Diversity Immigrant Program or Green Card Lottery as it is usually called.

(The Green Card Lottery aims to increase diversity in the US by granting visas to people from countries that are deemed to have low rates of immigration to the US. 50,000 green cards are handed out every year in the lottery).

Conversely, the Democrats introduced the Attracting the Brightest and the Best Act. This would have granted two year work visas to tech graduates. The Republicans refused to vote for it.

With President Obama re-elected, the tech industry hopes he will be able to force through change in his second term. Mark Heeson, president of the National Venture Capital Association said 'we think the president was sincere in his talk about the need or immigration reform in the second term and we think he'll have a receptive House [of Representatives] and Senate who will want to look at the issue as well.

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