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Want a Competitive America? Expand H1B, Congressman Says

Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., told CNBC’s “Street Signs” that expanding the H1B visa program is necessary to assure the nation’s competitiveness and future economic health.

The special visas, now capped at 65,000 a year, are used to bring highly skilled workers into the country, including engineers, programmers, architects, doctors and professors.

“As high-tech CEOs have said, we ought to staple a green card on every Ph.D. diploma in computer science and electrical engineering,” Flake said Thursday. “We ought to recognize that 25% of venture-backed high-tech companies were started by immigrants. If we don’t allow the highly skilled to stay here and work, then the jobs (they create) follow them back to China or India or wherever.”

Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J. said, “That sounds good, but it doesn’t work that way.”

He said U.S. companies hiring foreign engineers or other highly skilled workers don’t pay “prevailing wages.”

“What these folks are doing for the most part is taking jobs away from Americans who have gotten their degrees here, working at these jobs,” Pascrell said. “But these (immigrants) will work for between $16,000 and $22,000 less and they also won’t take the same health benefits. This is undermining the American workforce.”

Flake disagreed, and said U.S. companies spend about $10,000 to complete the paperwork alone and often pay a higher wage plus moving expenses to entice talented workers to leave home.

Pascrell said better education at home would solve the shortage of scientists and engineers.

Testifying before Congress last week, Microsoft founder Bill Gates said, “We face a critical shortage of scientific talent. There’s only one way to solve that crisis today: Open our doors to highly talented scientists and engineers who want to live, work and pay taxes here.”

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  • Co-anchor of CNBC's "Street Signs," Amanda Drury is based at the network's global headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.