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Auto industry fears H-1B reforms could slow self-driving work

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Analyst: “There’s not enough (engineers) to start with” and the “H-1B visa has been the primary pathway to finding” talent.

Richard Wallace (Image Courtesy: Center for Automotive Research)

If implemented, the Trump administration’s H-1B visa reforms will affect the race to build self-driving vehicles, said Richard Wallace, director at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The Center is an independent nonprofit that does automotive industry research and analyses.

Wallace told the Automotive News that high-skilled foreign workers play critical role in autonomous vehicle programs.

“There’s not enough (engineers) to start with,” he told the publication. “The H-1B visa has been the primary pathway to finding this type of technical talent.”

The report said automakers are struggling to find skilled engineers in robotics, artificial intelligence, machine vision and are looking abroad as the universities have been slow to adapt the increased demand for talent over the past few years.

The weekly newspaper cited the examples of Ford Motor Co., which filed 194 preliminary applications for H-1B visas in 2016, up from six in 2012, and General Motors, which filed 293 applications in 2016, up from 10 in 2012.

Wallace expressed his apprehensions as the competition in this field has grown over the past few years.

“We’re in some serious trouble. We’re really missing the global completion,” the News quoted Wallace.

“Where are we going to get this talent if it’s not outsourcing work to India, Bulgaria, Poland, Canada, and we’re not importing talent?” he said.