Is Immigration Good for Cybersecurity?

Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced on Tuesday her widely anticipated high-skilled worker bill, the 2011 Immigration Driving Entrepreneurship in America (IDEA) Act.

The Congresswoman said, "it makes no sense for us to educate the world's brightest students and then ship them back to their home countries to compete against us. My bill would allow some of the world's sharpest minds to stay in the United States and help us grow our economy."

While job growth is the issue on many peoples' minds these days, legislation such as the IDEA Act actually could, if enacted, further our cybersecurity posture. Cybersecurity and cyberbreaches, as we know them, are global phenomena. The federal government, as evidenced over the debate on whether cyber should be an economic or national security issue, is very well aware of the threats and strengths of other nations on the cyber front.

Today, our broken immigration system has the U.S. educating and training the "best and brightest" minds and then shipping them outside the U.S. instead of finding ways to keep them here and benefit from their ingenuity and innovation. On the cyber front, that means those who might be in the best position to help us build better networks, as well as strengthen our existing ones, are being sent away. In essence, the U.S. is similar to a parent handing over the keys to a newly purchased Ferrari to a teenager, saying "have a nice drive and don't come back."

The IDEA Act attempts to correct this, bringing the Ferrari home, by allowing individuals receiving advanced degrees in Science, Technology, Mathematics, and Engineering (STEM) fields from distinguished American universities to seek green cards. It promotes innovation by awarding green cards to entrepreneurs with significant venture capital funding who agree to open their start-ups in the U.S. or who can show that they have created at least 10 new American jobs. It also attempts to fix the existing system by fixing the bureaucracy that has created backlogs and huddles to those waiting for green cards.

The bill also calls for more investment in STEM education in the U.S., so we can create a domestic educated workforce that can address our most critical technological needs. Such investment, as we have seen in the various reports that have come out about the cybersecurity workforce in recent months, is critical.

Like all things legislative, the bill is not perfect. Still, it has garnered significant support from industry. It will hopefully open the dialogue on the importance of employment-based immigration to our increasingly technology-reliant society. An important part of that dialogue must be how cybersecurity fits into the STEM and green card picture so that as we build out the tech nation of the future, we can have assurances that it is secure, reliant and trusted.

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