March 7, 2007 9:56 AM PST
Gates calls for 'infinite' H-1Bs, better schools
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Referring to Gates' immigration recommendations, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) said, "I think a lot of the points you made make very, very good sense."
In his written testimony, Kennedy said the U.S. immigration system is "broken" and that the law needs to provide for more visas for "high-skilled" workers, particularly for foreigners who earn advanced degrees in science, technology and engineering at American universities. He said he planned to write such a provision into a "comprehensive" immigration bill he plans to introduce soon.
"We all agree that Americans must be hired first," Kennedy said. "But we must also keep the doors open to those who will contribute and strengthen our land for the future."
A different tone
Gates' warm reception by the senators on Wednesday proved a stark contrast to his congressional hearing debut nearly a decade ago.
Speaking at a March 1998 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about competition in the computer industry, Gates was put on the offensive about his company amid allegations of monopolistic practices. He also endured heated questioning from then-committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
Now a member of the Senate committee Gates addressed, Hatch had only kind words for Gates on Wednesday and chose to ask him no questions.
"You've done so much with your wealth that is so good for mankind that I don't think anyone should fail to recognize that," Hatch said, adding: "I usually don't lavish praise on anyone, but I think you deserve it."
Admiring tones infused the entire hearing this time around. It began promptly at 6:30 a.m. PST, when Kennedy escorted a dark-suited Gates to a red-tableclothed table, allowing at least a dozen photographers to close in and snap pictures of the duo. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) seated herself beside Gates and delivered a brief introduction in which she referred to Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as "pillars of our community."
During the hearing, most committee members began their comments by voicing admiration for Gates and the work done by his foundation. Many said they shared Gates' concerns about the state of the U.S. educational system and sought his views on how to get children more interested in the science and math fields, how to encourage tech skills at a young age, and how to draw more qualified teachers to those areas. Some even asked for his views on how to increase the number of American health professionals and whether Gates agrees with his father that the estate tax should not be repealed (he said, in so many words, that he does).
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) came the closest to a clash with the Microsoft chairman. The senator expressed concern about the extent to which the information technology sector has engaged in outsourcing over the past few years, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics figures reporting that the U.S. tech sector lost 644,000 jobs between January 2001 and 2006.
"I think you would probably agree that many major corporations, including your own, if they can hire qualified labor, engineers, scientists in India or China for a fraction of the wages being paid in the U.S., they are going to go there," Sanders said.
Gates said the issue again rests on the visa-shortage conundrum. Microsoft has been increasing its U.S. employment and paying "way above the prevailing wage rate" but has run into obstacles because of immigration restrictions, he said.
"The IT industry, I guarantee you," Gates said, "will be in the U.S. to the degree that these smart people are here in the U.S."
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