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Originally published Monday, December 17, 2012 at 4:00 PM

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Editorial: Immigration reform should include elements of Microsoft’s visa, education proposal

Congress is likely to consider comprehensive immigration reforms next year. Microsoft is offering a pragmatic proposal that should be part of the discussion.

Seattle Times Editorial

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NOVEMBER’S general election highlighted the power of Latino voters and amplified the call for comprehensive immigration reform.

But any reform must go beyond the issues of migrant workers and illegal immigration. Congress must also consider the highly skilled labor and education proposals in Microsoft’s National Talent Strategy.

Washington state faces a labor shortage in the high-tech sector. The state also has a responsibility to educate its students between the ages of 3 and 23 to prepare them for careers in science, technology, math and engineering.

The problem is government resources are limited. That’s why Microsoft is on to something.

The Redmond-based software giant needs 6,000 workers nationwide — 3,400 of those jobs are for researchers, developers and engineers. It suggests lifting the cap on H-1B visas for foreign workers by 20,000 slots. It also proposes an additional 20,000 green cards for highly skilled workers to stay in the United States.

In exchange, tech companies would pay higher fees, from $2,325 per foreign hire now to $10,000 per visa or $15,000 per green card. The money would be designated for education, specifically in the science, technology, engineering and math areas also known as STEM.

Microsoft estimates this effort could raise $500 million every year for education projects akin to the federal Race to the Top grants.

Microsoft’s proposal serves its own interests, but it also addresses a need to prepare American children for lucrative jobs in the ever-changing tech sector.

Across the country, universities are not producing enough STEM graduates to meet hiring demand.

Microsoft officials warn the shortage of qualified labor is so severe, in 2013 the company may start filling more jobs outside the U.S.

The company’s proposal addresses one slice of the immigration challenge facing the country. Congress should also adopt the full DREAM Act, which would allow young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children to stay and lead productive lives.

There is bipartisan support in Congress for expanding guest-worker programs that attract highly skilled talent.

On that front, Microsoft offers a pragmatic solution.

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