High-tech talent and immigration reform

High-tech companies like Microsoft, Google and Apple are usually very good about conducting research and development. But they are also notorious for poaching talent from one another and buying upstart competitors. These hot prospects are quickly integrated into their parent companies and become key parts of competitive strategy.

In high-tech fields, talent alone matters. What rarely matters to a successful company is whether a good idea came from the inside or the outside. The technology companies that become household names get there by finding the right people with the right skills and putting them to work to develop money-making ideas quickly and successfully.

The battle for highly skilled tech talent can be fierce. The people who know how to make the modern world hum faster are like an elite cadre of wizards, for as Arthur C. Clarke put it, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Welcome to the 21st century, where the wizards are sought-after like nobody else. And in this era, countries behave a lot like companies just on a bigger scale and with even higher stakes.

The amount of raw talent in high-tech sectors like research science, engineering and applied math is a finite resource. We try to produce more of it through our colleges and universities, but the demand always seems to exceed the supply.

Which is why it is essential for the United States to be bold and pragmatic about recruiting the best of the world’s highly skilled talent to our shores.

We can do that by improving our processes for worker visas and our immigration system overall. The United States already has two huge advantages working in our favor:

First, we have the world’s best system of collegiate-level education. Our colleges and universities are full of students who come here from abroad to study at the highest levels.

According to analysis by the Partnership for a New American Economy, if you find a student in one of the STEM fields at a research school in North Carolina, there is a 1-in-3 chance that student is from abroad. We are importing the world’s smartest young people and molding them into skilled technicians.

Second, we are the global leader for entrepreneurship and innovation in technology. If you want to build a fortune working on high-tech products, apps, computer programs or anything else high-tech, the USA is the place to be.

So it’s self-defeating to be stubborn about our immigration system, which is mostly a Sputnik-era relic hobbling along in a SpaceX age.

Immigration should not be viewed as a cost to this country, because it isn’t. It is a means of importing a raw good (human talent) and turning it into high-value products and services that we can either use here at home or export to the rest of the world.

If we want an economy that grows, creates jobs and continues to lead in the global economic race, we need high-performance players. Many of those stars will be born here, but we cannot sensibly pass up the opportunity to recruit the best and brightest from all over the world and to help them put down roots once they get here.

Brandon Kelly owns Kelly Creative Media in Raleigh.