Quantum computing specialists difficult to find inside US
Christopher Savoie, founder and chief executive of a startup called Zapata, offered jobs this year to three scientists who specialize in an increasingly important technology called quantum computing. They accepted.
Several months later, the Cambridge, Massachusetts, company was still waiting for the State Department to approve visas for the specialists. All three are foreigners, born in Europe and Asia.
Whether the delays were the result of tougher immigration policy or just red tape, Savoie’s predicament was typical of a growing concern among U.S. businesses and universities: Unless policies and priorities change, they will have trouble attracting the talent needed to build quantum technology, which could make today’s computers look like toys.
It is a story that is being told repeatedly in the tech industry in the United States. As companies push into new technologies, they are finding it harder to identify qualified engineers and researchers. They are also facing tougher immigration rules for foreign-born tech experts and competing with tech centers in other countries, like Montreal, London, Paris and Beijing.
International competition is a particularly thorny issue in quantum computing because one of these machines – in theory – could crack the encryption that protects sensitive information inside governments and businesses around the world. If a quantum computer can be built, it will be exponentially more powerful than even today’s supercomputers.
Last month, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy invited experts from government, industry and academia to Washington for a daylong policy meeting dedicated to quantum technologies. Several attendees, including Savoie, expressed concern that the Trump administration’s immigration policies could affect quantum research in academia and corporations.