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Tech Council chief: Alleged trade secret theft not a reason to abandon immigration reform

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Word spread this week of New Jersey's latest case of alleged trade secret theft by a foreign-born worker, but the head of the state's technology business trade group says that shouldn't detract from reforms to help companies hire skilled workers from abroad.

The FBI on Wednesday arrested a former BD engineer, alleging he planned to flee to India with proprietary information from the Franklin Lakes-based medical technology firm, the agency said. The suspect, Ketankumar Maniar, was a member of a group responsible for making medical pen injectors, and had access to information he allegedly downloaded in the weeks before his resignation.

The case is "not the only episode … where you've seen people doing these kinds of things," said Maxine Ballen, president and CEO of the New Jersey Technology Council. But they are too infrequent to change the industry's pursuit of foreign talent — and its support of easing restrictions on so-called H1-B work visas for skilled workers.

"I'd hate to have our whole immigration reform platform impacted by the acts of a few," said Ballen, whose group is based in Mount Laurel. "And when you look at the numbers of people that are committing these heinous acts, it's a very small proportion."

Maniar's arrest comes as the Senate negotiates a federal immigration reform bill, which now looks to include a provision to raise the cap on H-1B visas from 65,000 annually to 110,000, according to published reports last month.

New Jersey has been at the center of some trade-secret theft cases in recent years. Last year, former researchers at L&3 Space & Navigation, in Mount Olive, and Sanofi-Aventis, in Bridgewater, were convicted in separate cases of stealing information and sending it to Chinese companies and institutions.

Ballen lamented that "we end up with bad eggs being the ones we talk about — all the good ones not being mentioned." But she said she was still rallying for H-1B visa reform, because companies "can ill afford" to not take advantage of intellectual capital from abroad.

"I'm upset, I'm appalled," she said, referring to the BD case. "But I don't in any way want to see anything change in terms of the push to loosen up and expand and increase the immigration pool."

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