Tech industry details how US immigration policy hurts American AI edge

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The tech industry has warned that current immigration policies are detrimental to the U.S. maintaining an edge in the artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) spheres, according to a report by Geek Wire. Industry leaders expressed their concerns through a paper published by the Partnership on AI (PAI).

Process Revisions

The letter urges lawmakers to create a special visa category for AI and ML experts. This would allow them to travel more freely between the U.S. and their home country. It also asks policymakers to rethink immigration quotas based on nationality. Moreover, the PAI would like to simplify the legal immigration and visa application process as a whole.

“Immigration laws, policies, and practices are challenging the ability of many communities, including the artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) community, to incorporate diverse voices in their work,” PAI’s paper states.

It seems that the Trump administration’s strict immigration policies are the catalyst for PAI’s current action.

“Diverse perspectives are necessary to ensure that AI is developed in a responsible manner, thoughtfully benefiting all people in society. Voices and contributions from global talent are also essential to reducing the unintended consequences that can arise from AI/ML development and deployment, including those related to safety and security.”

Big and Little Tech

PAI intervened on behalf of tech giants including Microsoft, Amazon, and the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2). These companies are currently trying to establish a global AI hub in the Seattle area. They depend upon employment-based visas like the H-1B to bring in global talent. Amazon filed the most H-1B applications in both 2017 and 2018 while Microsoft, Intel, and Google trailed close behind.

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However, PAI members are more concerned about smaller companies, students, and startups. These smaller outfits lack the resources that Big Tech has to mitigate the complex and ever-changing world of immigration policy. “While multinational companies and well-funded universities are able to hire visa experts, resource constrained startups, students, and less affluent applicants lack the finances to successfully obtain visas,” the paper states.

An Unfavorable Idea

The PAI’s letter follows the lead of AI2 CEO Oren Etzioni. He recently wrote an op-ed piece titled “What Trump’s Executive Order on AI Is Missing” outlining the shortcomings of a recent Trump executive order aimed at AI.

Trump issued the order in February to “sustain and enhance” AI leadership in America. The order vaguely and sometimes redundantly outlines ways to achieve this goal. While it does state that the U.S. “must promote an international environment,” nowhere in the order is there a proposal of changing immigration policy to accomplish that goal.

However, the Trump administration has floated a different, unfavorable alternative. It proposes that extra AI-related employment visas could be siphoned off of family and humanitarian-based quotas. Hopefully, the tech industry will flag this as an unacceptable trade-off. As of now, pressuring the administration’s policices seems like the only way to keep America at the forefront of AI innovation.