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Short-sighted H-1B Visa Policy Must End

BY AJAY GHOSH

 Th e United S a t e s i s known as the land of opportunity, where people from around the world, who are qualified, talented and with good education can explore the opportunities, contributing to the growth of the US economy, and nation building, even while they are helped to reach their fullest potential. The immigration policy of the United States has attracted millions of qualified persons to reach the vast and rich land, that is, the United States of America, especially in the last decade.

<> H-1B is the most commonly used nonimmigrant work visa that allows foreign workers to come here and work for American companies. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issues the H-1B classification to a foreign national to live and work in the United States for a temporary period in a specialty occupation, which requires a minimum of a U.S. bachelor’s degree or equivalent. H1B occupations include jobs in IT industry such as software engineers, computer programmers, systems analysts, network administrators, database administrators, accountants, teachers, scientists, and engineers. During the boom years of 1990s, almost 200,000 H-1B visas were issued per year. At the present time, however, the worldwide annual quota of H1B visas is 65,000. Out of this, 6,800 visas are reserved for persons from Singapore and Chile. In addition, there is a special quota of 20,000 visas available for holders of master’s or higher degree from US graduate schools.

<>Through the past few decades, H-1B Visa has enabled millions of qualified persons to come to the United States and contribute to the growth of the largest economy in the world. There has been a demand, especially from IT companies to raise the quota to allow more qualified persons to enter and work in the US, enriching the economy.

<> Business says that there is a shortage of skilled Americans for certain jobs and that they must therefore look beyond the border to fill the gap.

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< align="left">Among several others, Bill Gates has consistently pressed the US Congress to increase the cap on H-1B visas, which are issued to skilled workers from foreign countries.

<>Last year, several senators and representatives from both parties filed bills to increase the quota. One such proposal came from Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H), which proposed raising the number to 150,000 in fiscal 2008. But the bills have gone nowhere in committee.

<>On the other hand, there are several others, who say that H-1B visas go to people in jobs that could indeed be filled by Americans. As though, heeding to this point of view, the US Senate accepted a modified amendment last month to the massive stimulus bill requiring companies accepting government bailout funds to hire H-1B visa holders under strict hiring standards so that qualified American workers are not replaced. Under the new regulation, a company receiving Troubled Assets Relief Program funds and applying for workers under the H-1B process must operate as an “H-1B dependent company”.

<>This means they will still be able to hire H-1B visa holders but must comply with the H-1B dependent employer rules which include attesting to actively recruiting American workers; not displacing American workers with H-1B visa holders; and not replacing laid off American workers with foreign workers.

<>Infosys Technologies vice-chairman Nandan M. Nilekani said recently that the global economic meltdown has affected hiring in India’s IT industry and many growing economies around the world with a rich pool of young and qualified tech workers. “The recruitment was wellplaced earlier when the growth rate was 30 percent in the IT sector. The crisis in the financial sector has automatically affected Indian IT firms,” Nilekani said. Another area where Indian workers have taken a hit is the fast growing health sector. There is a dire shortage of qualified Nurses. Yet, their entry into this country, providing the much needed health services has been restricted in the recent few years, affecting the entire health industry in the US.

<>Is it true that the H-1B Visa holders take away the jobs from the locals? It does not seem to be so. They, on the other hand, help in the growth of the economy, creating more jobs for millions of others in the country. A Virginia-based policy research group, on “H-1B Visas and Job Creation” has shown that for every H-1B position requested with the Department of Labor, US technology companies increase their employment by five workers.

<> American businesses are finding it hard to fill skilled positions even as H-1B visas that bring in foreign professionals, including a large number from India, are creating jobs in the US, showed the study. It also pointed out that major US technology companies today average more than 470 job openings for skilled positions in the US while defense companies have more than 1,265 each. The study confirmed the Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates’ contention that an arbitrary cap on H-1B visas is forcing them to outsource jobs,

<> Short-sighted policies, such as the one inserted into the Stimulus Bill will hurt the American economy and the lives of the people here, especially in the long run. As there aren’t enough highly skilled Americans to fill jobs in the United States, the companies are more than likely to outsource the jobs. And millions of skilled workers who would have come to contribute to the growth of the American economy will go to other countries that seek them out in right earnest and welcome them with open arms, providing them with the opportunities and incentives to contribute tremendously to the growth of their economies.

BY AJAY GHOSH

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