Caterpillar CEO calls for more visas for foreign engineers, path to legal status for undocumented immigrants

Cat CEO Doug OberhelmanCat CEO Doug Oberhelman

During a speech at the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition in Chicago, Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman said his company has a hard time retaining talent and filling lower-skilled positions due to the hard time its foreign workers have in obtaining a visa to stay in the U.S.

“Today, we (employers) have gaps in our workforce. We have trouble filling highly skilled positions like engineers and scientists. We also have trouble filling many lower-skilled positions,” Oberhelman said, according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

“When we recruit engineers from the University of Illinois, Purdue, Texas A&M, Stanford or wherever, we want the brightest talent. I really don’t care if that person was born in Chicago or India or England. I want that talent working for Caterpillar, not one of those competitors around the world.”

Recently, Chamber of U.S. Commerce President Thomas Donohue and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka reached an agreement on a guest worker program for immigrants that is expected to clear the way for immigration reform.

Oberhelman said some Cat employees from China have waited eight years or more for a green card giving them permanent residency in the U.S.

The Journal Sentinel reports that Oberhelman called for visa laws to be changed in order to provide a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants and to do a better job of reflecting the needs of U.S. businesses.

“We would really like to see more H-1B visas, which are an important tool for hiring foreign nationals who receive their advanced engineering degrees in the United States. Currently, the number of H-1B visas is capped each year without regard to the current market demand,” Oberhelman said.