The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of WRAL Tech Wire and business editor of

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – A red-hot political issue will take center stage in Cary on Monday. It’s neither the presidential race nor who will be North Carolina’s next governor. Rather, the subject is foreign immigrants and U.S. jobs.

The hot topic: H-1B Visas.

If there is a “third rail” of death in the employment debate these days it’s foreign workers and the number of so-called H-1B visas which the U.S. grants annually to skilled immigrants who want to work here.

Jim Goodnight, chief executive officer at SAS, is among four executives who will be discussing the issue at a panel discussion being put on by the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and the Partnership for a New American Economy.

This is a can’t miss event if you have an opinion on the issue. It is open to the public but registration is required.

If there is a “third rail” of death in the employment debate these days it’s foreign workers and the number of so-called H-1B visas which the U.S. grants annually to skilled immigrants who want to work here.

With U.S. unemployment still well above double digits (if you count everyone who wants work but can’t find it or is working part time, not those just listed in the job force), many people are quite opposed to seeing more foreign workers allowed across the border.

Given the ongoing job cutbacks and offshoring of work by IBM (NYSE: IBM), the visa issue is even more timely in the Triangle.

Employers, however, complain that they can’t find skilled workers to fill some 3 million jobs. They want more H-1Bs.

The Media Pitch: “Must Have Access”

Here’s how the organizers of the discussion on Monday morning pitched the event to media

“Triangle businesses must have access to the highly skilled and highly educated workers they need in order to grow and create the jobs necessary for revitalizing our economy. Federal immigration policies are currently limiting our country’s opportunity to attract and retain the talent employers need to compete in the 21st century global economy.”

Richard Herman, co-author of the 2009 book “Immigrant, Inc.,” which makes the case for permitting more immigrants, will be talking. In his book, he cited Triangle tech entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa’s research at Duke University into the importance of immigrants to technology and engineering related firms. Between 1995 and 2005, 25 percent of them had an immigrant founder.
In a blog, Herman noted: “Compared to people like me (American-born), immigrants are more likely to start a business, invent something, earn an advanced degree, and have intimate knowledge of global markets.”

The panel includes in addition to Goodnight:

• Eric Buckland, Bioptigen
• Dr. Louis Martin-Vega, NC State University
• Rick McNeel, LORD Corporation

McNeel is chairman of the board and CEO of Cary-based Lord, which is a very high-tech global manufacturing firm. Buckland is CEO of Bioptigen, which focuses on leading-edge visualization technology. Dr. Martin-Vega is dean of engineering at NCSU.

The Partnership for a New American Economy says it includes “more than 400” Republican, Democrat and independent mayors and leaders who are seeking immigration reforms.

Last December, the group published a study that concludes more immigrants who lead to the creation of more new companies and more jobs.

Key Findings

Here are what the group says are the key findings:

1. “Immigrants with advanced degrees boost employment for US natives. 

2. “Temporary foreign workers—both skilled and less skilled—boost U.S. employment. 

3. “The analysis yields no evidence that foreign-born workers hurt U.S. employment. 

4. “Highly educated immigrants pay far more in taxes than they receive in benefits.”

On the Other Hand …

On the other hand, numerous comments by IBM workers at the Alliance & IBM website say their jobs are being offshored and they are left unemployed. They are but a few f the many complaints across the country.

This issue is not going away any time soon. Even before the “Great Recession” hit, the debate raged in Washington.

Monday’s event could be quite interesting.

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