Dealing with a dearth of H-1B visa slots

Via The Star-Telegram
By MARK G. HEESEN and STUART ANDERSON
Special to the Star-Telegram

A focus on illegal immigration has overshadowed the need to reform
America’s system for skilled immigrants. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas,
will oversee a field hearing Thursday at the University of Texas at
Dallas that may start to correct this problem.

Because Congress has failed to allocate enough H-1B visas, U.S.
employers often must wait more than a year to hire a skilled foreign
national. In nine of the past 11 years, employers used up the entire
H-1B quota before the fiscal year ended; in the past three years,
employers exhausted the quota before the fiscal year started.

H-1B visas are essential — there is no other way to hire an
outstanding international student off a U.S. campus, or a
researcher/professional from abroad. The wait is five years or more in
the skilled green-card categories (for permanent residence) because
Congress also has failed to raise those quotas.

Companies employ many outstanding Americans, but to compete
globally, U.S. firms also must hire top talent without regard to place
of birth. Current visa limits have caused U.S. companies to hire and
place more personnel outside the U.S.

Ill-conceived immigration policies may discourage students from
coming to America to start a career. In fact, first-time science and
engineering graduate enrollment for international students declined for
the third year in a row in 2004, according to the National Science
Foundation.

In 2005, U.S. universities awarded 55 percent of master’s degrees
and 67 percent of Ph.D.s in electrical engineering to foreign
nationals. Simply put, when U.S. companies recruit off college
campuses, they find many of the potential new hires to be foreign
nationals.

Under the law, U.S. employers must pay foreign nationals hired on
H-1B visas as much as similar American professionals. Moreover,
companies typically pay $6,000 in various legal and government fees,
which have funded more than 40,000 scholarships for U.S. college
students in science and engineering, according to research by the
National Foundation for American Policy.

Cornyn’s bill (S 2691), which was included as part of the Senate’s
broader immigration bill passed in May, would largely solve the key
problems facing skilled immigrants and innovative American employers.

It would raise the annual cap on H-1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000,
provide for market-based increases in future years and add broader
exemptions for those with advanced degrees. In addition, recognizing
that it makes no sense to train and educate people and then ask them to
leave the country, the bill makes it easier for international students
to transition to work and provide an increase in green cards so that
highly skilled individuals could stay, innovate and prosper in America.

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