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San Diego County, CA November 4, 2008 Election
Smart Voter

Nuturing Innovation: The Short and Long Term

By Nick Leibham

Candidate for United States Representative; District 50

This information is provided by the candidate
H1-B Visas and America's education in math and science
Nurturing Innovation: The Short and Long Term Nick Leibham + Commentary May 26, 2008 San Diego Business Journal

There is a deep disconnect in this country between our rhetorical support for innovation and our unwillingness to act in ways that actually foster innovation.

A comprehensive prospectus for meeting the 21st century is urgently needed. In the near term we must recruit the best and brightest from around the globe. In the long term, it is crucial that we nurture and develop our own highly skilled labor force by furnishing them with the critical skills needed for a new millennium.

In the short term part of this process is expanding the cap on H-1B visas. These non-immigrant work visas allow U.S. employers to hire foreign-born individuals with valuable or specialized scientific skills. At the moment, America has a cap of 65,000 H-1B visas per year. Fifteen years ago it was 195,000.

In April 2007, the quota was filled on the first day that applications were accepted. The current reduced cap is an outgrowth of post-Sept. 11 national security concerns as well as congressional sentiment that challenges the need for these workers.

But the reality remains: We have a shortage of certain skilled workers in this country.

Just a glimpse exposes this reality: In the United States during 2006 fully 62 percent of all doctoral degrees in engineering went to foreign nationals. This is compared to 50 percent in 2000.

In short, Americans are not studying science and math with the same degree of enthusiasm as the rest of the world.

If we are to grow our information technology economy, we must have the human capital to sustain that growth and, yes, even help foster it. H1-B visas are a part of addressing our needs.

Additionally, a recent study by the National Foundation for American Policy concluded that for every H-1B visa that was granted, five other jobs were created + American jobs.

Although importing technical skills is beneficial in the short term, it is not sustainable in the long-term. More importantly, it points to shortcomings in our own system.

We should be producing a domestic work force that is at the top of the class -- worldwide. Our San Diego economy relies heavily on the tele-communications, biotechnology and defense industries.

These sectors in turn depend on technically trained workers.

Unfortunately, by almost any measure, America is falling behind in producing this skilled labor pool.

California is among the biggest laggards. In the core area of math, according to the Governor's Advisory Committee on Education Excellence, California ranked 45th nationwide for eighth graders; fourth-grade rankings were even lower at 47th. On a per-student basis our state's science education fared even worse: of 44 states that report science ratings, California ranked 43rd for the fourth grade and 42nd for eighth grade. The reasons for these sub-par rankings usually provoke heated debate -- inadequate instruction, a heavy concentration of ESL (English as a second language) learners, the lack of adequate government funding and so forth. Irrespective of the principal culprits, the government must reorganize its priorities if America is to remain on top of the world technically and economically. A generation ago a governmental panel promoting childhood health summed up succinctly, "Children are one third of our population and all of our future." Indeed. Let us move with all due haste to secure the future. The seeds of our commitment to math and science today will blossom into our innovators of tomorrow

Nick Leibham is the Democrat congressional candidate for the 50th District. He lives in North County where he practices law.

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