What is the real reason Bill Gates wants to lift the annual cap on H-1B visas?

Bill Gates testified before a congressional hearing on March 12, advocating immigration reforms to help fill what he sees as a critical shortfall of skilled scientists and engineers. Is there a shortage, or is there another reason he's pushing for this?

Last week I wrote about the fact that many HR departments are claiming an IT skills shortage (IT skill shortage: Where's the hard evidence?). The claims didn't seem to mesh with the findings of a couple of recent university-sponsored studies.

But now someone else has joined the skills shortage bandwagon: Bill Gates.

Gates, who testified before a congressional hearing on March 12, is advocating lifting the annual cap on H-1B visas.

At a hearing of the House Science and Technology Committee, Gates outlined immigration reforms that he said would help fill "a critical shortfall of skilled scientists and engineers." According to an article on Workforce Management's Web site, Gates:

  • Urged lifting the annual cap on H-1B visas for highly skilled immigrants.
  • Recommended that Congress increase the number of employment-based visas, or green cards, extend the time that foreign students can stay in the U.S. after they complete their degree, eliminate visa limits for individual countries, and make more highly skilled foreign employees permanent residents.

Critics of Gates' efforts suggest that there is no skills shortage in the United States and that Gates is just ignoring unemployed IT pros in the United States because they cost more to hire than the employees he can get through the use of H-1B visas.

To this criticism, Gates replied, "These jobs are going begging. We're not kidding. It's not an issue of raising wages. We're hiring as many people as we can."

What do you think? Is Gates speaking the truth, trying to save money, or just holding the bar too high?

Also check out a recent TechRepublic discussion about H-1B visas in which members talk about issues such as whether the number of H-1B visas made available is sufficient.