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Craig Barrett, chairman of Intel, the world’s largest semiconductor maker, called for comprehensive immigration reform to make the US more competitive, during a live question-and-answer session on FT.com.

Mr Barrett, one of a number of technology leaders including Bill Gates to have criticised restrictions on foreign workers in the US, said the first step in simplifying the immigration process would be “to replace the current arbitrary quota system with an open market type approach”.

The US’s H1-B visa allows foreign engineers and scientists to work on a temporary basis in the US but is capped at 65,000 a year. Mr Barrett said this was inadequate: the current quota had been exhausted and there could be no new admissions until another came into effect in October this year.

Mr Barrett said demand was also greater than supply for green cards that allowed permanent employment, with the cap at 140,000 a year and long processing delays meaning individuals having to wait up to seven years to obtain one.

“These arbitrary caps undercut business’s ability to hire and retain the number of highly educated people in the fields where we need to maintain our leading position,” he said.

“Instead of arbitrary caps, a market-based approach that responds to demand is needed.”

Mr Barrett was asked by an Intel employee why his company had stopped sponsoring its workers for green cards between 2001 and 2004. The Intel chairman said this was during the longest and deepest recession in the semiconductor industry. It had been waiting for business conditions to improve before resuming the process.

“We should just staple a green card to every advanced degree granted to a foreign national from a US university in science and engineering,” he said in another answer.

Mr Barrett also advocated improvements in the US education system to make America more competitive in technology fields.

“Today, we compare ourselves to our neighbours – California to Arizona, Texas to Florida, etc. We do not compare ourselves to the rest of the world and recognise that the bar of achievement, the level necessary for competitiveness is continually being raised.”

Craig Barrett: America should open its doors wide to foreign talent

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