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Microsoft's Gates Urges US to Seek More High-Skilled Foreign Workers

The chairman of the giant U.S. software company Microsoft is calling on the U.S. government to attract more high-skilled foreign workers to the United States to keep the country competitive in a global economy. Bill Gates made his comments in testimony before a Senate panel Wednesday, as VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

Bill Gates expressed concern about the U.S. immigration system, saying limits on the number of visas for high-skilled workers, bureaucratic delays in processing them and exhaustive security checks following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks are deterring talented foreign workers from seeking jobs in the United States.

In testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Gates warned that the United States could risk losing its competitive edge to other countries if Congress does not reform the immigration system.

"Countries like Canada and Australia have been beneficiaries of our system, which discourages these people [high skilled foreign workers] with both the limits and the long waits, and what the process feels like as they go through the security checks," he said.

In the coming weeks, Congress is expected to consider immigration reform legislation, including efforts to attract more high-skilled workers and streamline the visa application process.

Gates said he believes it is possible to do background security checks without having the process become too burdensome.

He also called for ways to make it easier for more high-skilled workers to become permanent residents to help retain talent, particularly in the information technology, or IT, field.

"The IT industry I guarantee will be in the United States to the degree that smart people are here in the United States, and that is why I believe it is important to maximize that number [of high-skilled foreign workers]," he added.

Gates urged lawmakers to find ways to keep foreign students in the United States, saying if the country is going to invest in educating them, it should also benefit from that investment by encouraging them to work here.

He urged the federal government to invest more money in education and training, and in research and development (R&D).

"Federal research funding is vital," he explained. "Unfortunately, while other countries and regions, such as China and the European Union, are increasing their public investment in R & D, federal research spending in the United States is not keeping pace."

Gates suggested an increase of 10 percent annually in U.S. funding for research for the next seven years.

He also urged more teacher training and higher math curriculum standards. He said the nation should set a goal of doubling the number of science, technology and math graduates by 2015.