Open the floodgates to IT immigration

Forget about H-1B. What we need is fast-track citizenship for every developer who wants to work in the United States

Every time I write about immigration or offshore IT talent I get flamed, so here goes – I'm putting on my thick skin.

A couple articles caught my eye this week: one about Microsoft opening an R&D facility in Canada to get around U.S. immigration restrictions, and one about Silicon Valley companies pulling back some jobs from India, where salaries are skyrocketing.

Both these articles just screamed out to me, We must open the floodgates for "IT immigrants," and fast. As Ronald Reagan said, "Tear down this wall."

Before you start cussing me out, some disclaimers: I was born in the United States and speak English only, but all four of my grandparents came over on a boat (mostly steerage). So I'm biased toward the power of immigrants to make the United States a better place. I'm also not a developer, so I don't view developers worldwide as competition for my job (just the zillion starving writers out there, but that's another story).

So here's my proposal: Let's roll out the red carpet and try to get as many developers coming to the United States as the total number of people who normally enter the country each year (about 1.3 million legally or illegally, according to the Center for Immigration Studies). If they can prove they can code, let's give them immediate citizenship, free food, coupons for free movie rentals, whatever, to get them to come and stay (and while we're at it, let's give free food and coupons to all American-born developers too).

By "immediate citizenship," I'm talking about a LAMP (Linux Apache MySQL PHP) visa with no expiration and a clear path to full citizenship. If you ask me, the H-1B visa debate is ridiculous – the numbers are too small to be meaningful, the visa creates a group of noncitizens companies can take advantage of, and the result is uncertainty for potential IT immigrants, not a long-term incentive.

Why so radical? The United States isn't growing enough technologists organically through our education system to compete, so let's acquire and assimilate them. They'll create growth, jobs, companies; pay taxes; and help raise our national standard of living. Or they'll go somewhere else and do it there.

If Microsoft is so desperate for foreign talent that it will open a major R&D lab across the border in Vancouver just to skirt U.S. immigration laws, that should tell you something. IT talent, like water, will flow around obstacles. We have a dam when we need a canal.

What about U.S. companies pulling back jobs from India? Doesn't that mean we're already competitive enough and don't need more developers here? Far from it. All that means is that India's talent base is maturing and the world is turning to it for IT talent, investing capital and building businesses there. It means the United States is now relatively less attractive to those Indian developers than it was even one year ago. Let's drop the xenophobia, folks, and start viewing IT immigration as the huge opportunity it is.

To get this column delivered to your e-mail inbox every week, sign up here.