Gates: Open U.S. Floodgates to Skilled Foreigners

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates said Wednesday he feels “deep anxiety” about the state of U.S. competitiveness and called for education, immigration and research funding reforms.

“When I reflect on the state of American competitiveness today, my immediate feeling is not only one of pride, but also of deep anxiety. Too often we as a society are sacrificing the long-term good of our country in the interest of short-term gain,” Gates told a Senate committee.

He said government needs to invest more money in education and training, especially in high school math and science, as well as in job training programs.

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“Our high schools are no longer a path to opportunity and success, but a barrier to both,” Gates told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, chaired by Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy.

“While most students enter high school wanting to succeed, too many end up bored, unchallenged and disengaged from the high school curriculum—’digital natives’ caught up in an industrial-age learning model,” he said.

Gates urged higher state math curriculum standards, more support for teachers, and reauthorization of the federal “No Child Left Behind” legislation, which uses testing to measure student progress and holds schools accountable for standards.

He recommended that the nation set a goal of doubling the number of science, technology and math graduates by 2015, and to recruit 10,000 new science and math teachers annually.

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Gates urged Congress to find ways to keep foreign students here and to expedite the path to permanent resident status for highly skilled workers to help retain talent, instead of forcing employers to send development work offshore.

He said it “makes no sense” that foreign students who apply for a U.S. student visa must prove that they do not intend to remain in the country once they receive their degree.

“If we are going to invest in educating foreign students … why drive them away just when this investment starts to pay off for the American economy?” he said.

“I see the negative effects of these policies every day at Microsoft,” Gates said, referring to the giant software company he founded. Scientists and engineers from India and China routinely wait more than five years to obtain a U.S. green card, he said.

America’s ability to remain a technological powerhouse will depend in large part on federal government investment in basic research, Gates said. He urged increased funding for basic science research and permanent extension of the R&D tax credit, which expires at the end of 2007.

“As federal research priorities expand into new areas, we should seek to increase funding for basic research by 10 percent annually over the next seven years,” he said.

He said Congress should consider other “innovative” ideas, such as new research grants for outstanding early-career researchers, as well as ensuring research projects are communicated to the private sector so companies can collaborate more effectively with recipients of public research funds.

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