Maybe they should put a high-tech door in that big border fence

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With the U.S. economy on life support — in the form of regular transfusions of cash from the FED — and jobs disappearing in epidemic proportions, this may seem an odd time to talk about a red-hot employment sector.

Well, it appears that there is one type of worker who is in short supply in almost every major enterprise in America: highly educated people with superior technical skills.

You know the type we’re talking about. They don’t need your help setting up their email address on their first day on the job because they already are analyzing the database architecture for your supply-chain management system.

Our education system hasn’t been producing enough of these  ”brainiacs” for years, particularly in math-intensive and/or engineering disciplines, leaving the U.S. devoid of homegrown talent to run the advanced technologies we invented.

Unfortunately, Congress has been busy cutting off our ability to import the talent we need to remain competitive in the global economy.

The politicians who beat their chests and shout about keeping farm workers and day laborers from illegally entering the country haven’t done much about that problem, but the across-the-board immigration quotas they have enacted in recent years have raised the bar for skilled workers who want to come here legally.

The number of HB-1 visas available to skilled foreign workers annually has been capped at 65,000, less than a third of the total issued in 2000. This ceiling has been hit on April 1 — the first day applications are accepted — in each of the past two years, according to the National Association of Manufacturers. The visa “winners” are determined by lottery.

To make matters worse, backlogs and multi-year waiting times in the employment-based green card system — which allows highly educated foreign-born employees to remain in the U.S.  — are forcing many skilled workers to go home soon after they get here. Efforts to reduce these waiting times have been complicated by increased security restrictions put in place after 9/11.

The EB green card program has an annual allotment of 140,000 visas, but these are allocated equally across all countries around the world, regardless of population. Spouses and children count against the quota, which has not been raised since 1990.

Thus NAM went out of its way on April 1 — the opening and closing day of the 2009 HB-1 visa application “season” — to thank some forward-thinking members of Congress who support raising the visa cap.

“We are grateful to those Members of Congress who have acknowledged the significant and growing shortage of highly skilled employees needed to keep America on the leading edge of innovation,” NAM President and CEO John Engler said in a press release.

“NAM supports efforts to provide a permanent fix to these programs that will meet the growing and unmet need for highly skilled employees in the manufacturing and broader economy.”

Let’s hope he could be heard over the sound of jackhammers building our new border fence.

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