SAN JOSE (KCBS)— With more than half a million legal permanent residents calling the Bay Area home, high-tech companies in Silicon Valley are leading the charge on helping their green-card holding employees achieve citizenship.

25 South Bay technology companies heard from a panel of experts Wednesday on how they can use citizenship to close the skill gap.

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Katherine Marrufo, director of employee talent services at Cisco, said they’re being handcuffed by present U.S. immigration policy and need to be able to hire more employees seeking legal status.

“Partly because of the slowness that we talked about, the red-tape and bureaucracy; when you look at companies like Cisco and other technology firms, the market transitions out there are moving so fast and so that war for talent we talked about, is about speed and agility. If we have to sit and wait, we’re losing the edge,” she said.

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Ali Noorani, executive director with the National Immigration Forum, said it’s not just high-tech companies being impacted.

“What we’ve learned is that our economy needs two things: a skilled engineer as well as a skilled farmworker. There’s no such thing in our opinion, kind of high-skill versus low skill. Our economy needs skills across the spectrum of labor,” he said.

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Noorani expects some movement on immigration reform with the next Congress.