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The Wall Street Journal: Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor - and Your Engineers | Cypress Semiconductor

The Wall Street Journal: Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor - and Your Engineers

Last Updated: 
Sep 03, 2009

The Wall Street Journal: Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor - and Your Engineers

T.J. Rodgers

Last year, the U.S. Labor Department interrupted four key projects at my company, Cypress Semiconductor: a memory chip for Internet applications, a microcontroller chip for personal computers, our chip-manufacturing control system and our most advanced CMOS process technology, which permits the design of very low-power integrated circuits.

The reason? U.S. high-tech companies had hit the annual cap of 65,000 H1-B visas, which allow highly skilled foreigners to work in the U.S. As a result, we had to lay off highly skilled technology workers who were waiting for their visas, delaying the sale of millions of new chips and the creation of hundreds of manufacturing jobs.

We have 16 other projects backlogged due to engineering shortages -- and that's not surprising when the unemployment rate in electrical engineering is a rock-bottom 0.4%. Although we recruit on 27 college campuses and hire all the immigrants we're allowed, Cypress cannot find enough engineers to grow at its full potential. So it goes across Silicon Valley: The Information Technology Association of America says there are 346,000 unfilled skilled positions nationwide. In a survey, the association's members say this engineering crunch is the No. 1 factor inhibiting the growth of their companies.

And yet Washington is sending immigrants home, including many new graduates of American colleges. Half of technology doctorates awarded by U.S. universities go to foreign nationals. The president of Taiwan's Winbond Semiconductor, just penalized by the International Trade Commission for dumping in the U.S., has a doctorate from Princeton.

The labor shortage is getting worse. Last year Washington cut off H1-B immigration for one month. This year it will be four months, unless Congress increases the H1-B quota. The administration has opted for the immigration shutdown because it wants to "protect" American workers from "cheap" immigrant labor, a doubly incorrect position. In fact, skilled immigrants create new jobs for native-born Americans, and a Cato Institute study shows that long-term unemployment is lower and wages higher in cities and states with higher immigrant concentrations.

Yet the Clinton-Gore administration, an off-and-on friend of Silicon Valley, has turned its back on high-tech again, as I recently told the Senate Judiciary Committee, where I was joined by representatives of Intel, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, and Texas Instruments. Commerce Secretary William Daley has said that an increase in H1-B immigration is "not feasible" - Washington-speak for "drop dead." But Sen. Spencer Abraham (R., Mich.), for one, is listening. He introduced legislation last week that would raise the H1-B cap by a modest 25,000.

The claim that skilled H1-B immigrants take jobs from Americans is preposterous. Did Hungarian immigrant and Intel CEO Andy Grove take some "real" American's job, or did he help to create 50,000 high-quality jobs?

Engineers create jobs. Cypress employs 470 engineers out of 2,771 employees. Each engineer thus creates five additional jobs to make, administer and sell the products he develops. A disproportionate number of our research-and-development engineers - 37% - are immigrants, typical for Silicon Valley. Had we been prevented from hiring those 172 immigrant engineers, we couldn't have created about 860 other jobs, 70% of which are in the U.S.

Cypress now employs 2,011 U.S. citizens, an accomplishment unachievable without immigrants. Four of our 10 vice presidents are immigrants. Lothar Maier, our vice president of manufacturing, emigrated from Germany as a child. He joined us with an engineering degree and a stint at Intel under his belt, and now manages 1,067 workers in six plants. John Torode, our chief technology officer, came to the U.S. after World War II with his father, a British sailor. After obtaining his doctorate and a computer science professorship at the University of California, Berkeley, John started our computer products division, which makes the clock chips used to synchronize 20 million personal computers a year.

Emmanuel Hernandez, our chief financial officer, was an all-star employee at National Semiconductor, Silicon Valley's second-largest chip company, which transferred him to the U.S. from the Philippines. Tony Alvarez, our vice president of R&D, fled Castro-controlled Cuba in 1961 and now directs the 113 engineers who develop our most advanced technologies. Tony's chief scientist, Jose Arreola, emigrated from Mexico to get his doctorate and now manages an elite group of 30 engineers, 24 of whom have postgraduate degrees and 20 of whom are legal immigrants. Pat Buchanan derided immigrants during his 1996 presidential campaign, calling them "Jose." Our Jose has made Cypress's 2,011 American employees better off.

Pierre Lamond, our chairman, received an advanced degree in France, and was then recruited to work at Fairchild Semiconductor, which he left to become a founder of National Semiconductor. Today Pierre's venture-capital fund, Sequoia Partners, has provided capital to 200 Silicon Valley companies (including Apple and Genentech) with a total market value of $175 billion and more than 150,000 employees. Eric Benhamou, another Cypress director, fled with his parents to France during the 1960 Algerian civil war. After his Stanford education, he became CEO of 3Com Corp., the leading Internet infrastructure supplier with 100 million customers and 13,200 employees.

The conclusion is clear: Our immigrant executives, directors and engineers have created thousands of new American jobs. The competition for workers is so intense in Silicon Valley that Cypress's average San Jose employee - excluding the executive staff and me - now earns $81,860 annually, including benefits. The immigrant executives I have cited all earn six-figure incomes. Whose pay are they holding down? With 0.4% unemployment in this field, and record-low unemployment in the broader U.S. economy, where are the out-of-work Americans displaced by foreign talent?

America's loss is our foreign competition's gain. Our need for engineers has driven us to start R&D centers anywhere we can find engineers - currently, in England, Ireland and India. We're forced offshore to fill the jobs we cannot fill here - a fine way to "protect" American jobs.

Legal immigrants currently constitute 8.5% of the U.S. population, well below the 13%-plus levels maintained from 1860 to 1939. Immigrants add less than 0.4% to the population yearly. If this administration ignores Silicon Valley's need for 25,000 to 35,000 more immigrant engineers - a mere 3% or so of the million-plus yearly legal immigrants - the only result will be to drive high-tech hiring offshore. And it will have added the H1-B visa issue - along with litigation reform, encryption export and Internet regulation - to its list of Silicon Valley snubs.

Raising quotas by only 3%, specifically to bring in critical engineers and scientists, would be an obvious benefit to all Americans. Why are we sending the first-round draft choices of the high-tech world to play on other country's teams?