JUST IN: Attracting Tech Talent a ‘National Security Issue,’ Says White House Official
Onshoring talent will play a vital role in the Biden administration’s efforts to revitalize U.S. semiconductor manufacturing, a White House official said.
The CHIPS and Science Act, signed into law by President Biden on Aug. 9, includes $13.2 billion in funding for research-and-development and workforce development. However, some have raised concerns that the bill does not directly address immigration policy.
“There’s knowledge that there is a skills gap, but I don’t think we’ve begun to scratch the surface of what it will take to make sure that we have the requisite talent,” Megan Lamberth, an associate fellow for the technology and national security program at the Center for a New American Security think tank, told National Defense’s Meredith Roaten in an August interview.
The Biden administration recognizes the need to attract and retain foreign-born talent, said Tarun Chhabra, senior director for technology and national security on the National Security Council.
“Forty percent of [the] semiconductor workforce is foreign-born today,” Chhabra said during a Brookings Institution event Sept. 30. “So, we all have to work together and understand that … on the workforce side it's a supply chain issue, it's a national security issue … to ensure that we have the talent we need to execute on this broader strategy.”
Chhabra pointed to a number of options, including research visas and extraordinary ability visas, for which the administration is looking to provide guidance and clarification for companies looking to bring in talent from overseas.
“There's a visa focused on research, and I think traditionally that visa has been used by academic institutions, but we know that many private sector entities have very large research outfits and should be taking advantage … of that visa category as well,” he said. “We've tried to make that clear in our public guidance, but also through our engagement with industry as well.”
Regarding the extraordinary ability visas, Chhabra said, “We've clarified through a number of channels — including through fields that we think are critical for national security — what the eligibility should be for those and that it should be made more widely available.”
However, the Biden administration needs to push for more sweeping change to immigration legislation, he said.
“We do need to work with Congress on broader reform to enable the STEM talent that we need to come to the United States and stay in the United States, particularly when folks are here already being trained in the United States,” Chhabra said.
Retention of international STEM students at the doctoral level is “very high,” according to Chhabra, but the United States must continue retaining students at the master’s and bachelor’s levels as well, he added.
Beyond the manufacturing need to onshore foreign talent, it is a critical time to do so from a geopolitical perspective, Chhabra said.
Competitors like Russia are scrambling to find tech talent, he said. “On the other hand, we also know that our friends and allies are vigorously competing for the world's best talent, too. You could go to Silicon Valley and see billboards sponsored by other countries saying, ‘Having visa troubles? Come to our country.’”
“America just has to compete,” he said. “From our perspective, this is our advantage to lose. It’s long been America superpower, and we simply just have to maintain that advantage.”
Meredith Roaten contributed to this report.