WHEN talk in Washington turns to immigration, the focus is always on illegal activity and ways to curb it. How about paying some attention to legal immigration and ways to enhance it? We're talking specifically about the visas that are granted to well-educated, highly trained professionals from other countries. The United States dishes out just 65,000 of these H-1B visas each year, but the demand far outstrips that total. In fact last year (and in other years) the government's H-1B allotment was tapped out on the first day applications could be filed. As a result, people who are clamoring to work in this country and who would be tremendous assets to U.S. firms and our society, instead wind up working and settling elsewhere. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates tried to make this point to Congress recently, saying the lack of reform in this area of immigration "has exacerbated an already grave situation.” He pointed out, correctly, that our economy "depends on the ability of innovative companies to attract and retain the very best talent, regardless of nationality or citizenship.” The Wall Street Journal, long a champion of raising the cap on H-1B visas, said the Labor Department expects more than 2 million high-tech openings (math, science, engineering, etc.) in the United States by 2014. Our universities aren't producing anywhere near enough graduates in these areas. The Journal cited two studies by the National Foundation for American Policy. One found that major technology companies in this country average more than 470 job openings for skilled positions. The other study showed that H-1B filings among S&P 500 companies had a positive effect on overall work force numbers — not the opposite, as cap advocates like to contend. Gates said his company was proof of that: At Microsoft, every H-1B hire has on average translated to four additional employees. "If we increase the number of H-1B visas that are available to U.S. companies, employment of U.S. nationals would likely grow as well,” he said. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, joined a number of Republican Senators this month in introducing immigration legislation. Inhofe is seeking to make English the national language. Other bills introduced at that time called for, among other things, completing a fence along our southern border, streamlining deportation laws and establishing mandatory minimum sentences for illegal immigrants. The federal government does need to come up with a workable policy in this arena. In the meantime, though, we'd love to see someone in D.C. give a little consideration to the H-1B visa problem. Raising the cap substantially would be a good start, and would be hailed by companies that now see too many talented and eager workers wind up overseas.