The lack of U.S. immigration reform could stifle economic growth in San Diego County and pigeonhole the region as a place that fails to attract major companies, said Qualcomm founding Chairman Irwin Jacobs at a local real estate conference on Friday.

Technology and life-science companies in the county, like mobile chip maker Qualcomm, are having an increasingly hard time recruiting qualified workers because many of them are foreign graduates who can’t secure visas to work legally in this country, said Jacobs, at an event hosted by USD’s Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate.

Those who fail to lock in visas take their knowledge and experience elsewhere, helping competing businesses abroad, Jacobs said. Another issue is a shortage of native-born graduates in the STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“Particularly graduate school, over half of the students are foreign born,” said Jacobs, addressing real estate and business leaders at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront. “We’d love to hire them, but then we run into constraints. The number of H-1B visas that are available are limited … In fact, they often run out the first or second day they become available.”

Ernest Rady, executive chairman of San Diego-based real estate investment trust American Assets Trust, echoed Irwin’s sentiments about the need for change in immigration policy.

“Immigration is a lifeblood for this country, not only because it brings innovation … but it also brings capital,” said Rady, who criticized a divided Capitol for the lack of progress in this area.

Source: Union Tribune San Diego