Bill Gates leads H-1B hike cry

Via India Times InfoTech

NEW DELHI: The April 1 deadline and an election year have given American industry renewed vigour to lobby for an increase in the annual quota of temporary skilled worker (H-1 B) visas.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates is among industry chiefs headed for Capitol Hill to lobby for this increase. Alongside, Compete America, a coalition of industry, research and education institutions have also begun pitching for an increase in the annual quota.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services will start accepting applications for temporary skilled worker (H-1 B) visas from April 1 for the fiscal year 2009 that begins on October 1.

As was the case in the past couple of years, it is expected that the annual quota of H-1 B visas will be exhausted on the first day itself. At present, the quota is at 65,000 visas a year. Of this, 6,800 visas are set aside for Chile and Singapore as per their trade agreements with the US. This leaves 58,200 H-1 B visas for applicants from the rest of the world.

Experts say as this is an election year, not merely the presidential race, but also for the Congress, the industry may be able to persuade lawmakers to actively consider an increase. There are also reports of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus introducing a new immigration reform bill.

This would focus on illegal immigrants, but hike in H-1 B numbers could be tacked along as well. There seems to exist a support for this line of action within the American legislature.

Both Democrats and Republican leaders in the US House of Representatives are of the view that any effort at immigration reform should take into consideration the need to ensure that “the best and brightest in the United States and around the world are able to contribute to innovation” in the US.

As recently as October 2007, the House Republican leadership in a letter to the Speaker wrote that “we must enact legislation that allows US companies to attract and retain high-skilled workers to contribute and excel in the US economy without unnecessary delays and waiting periods. Members on both sides of the aisle have supported this in the past and we’re confident they will again.”

Compete America is lobbying for immigration reform that goes beyond enforcement steps. In a letter to Speaker and leaders of the House, Robert Hoffman, co-chair of Compete America wrote, “We agree that enforcement measures are a crucial part of immigration reform. Enforcementonly legislation, however, would not address many of the most pressing aspects of the national crisis surrounding our immigration system, especially for US employers who need access to highly-skilled professionals in order to remain competitive.”

“Congress instead must address immigration reform more thoroughly, including reforms to the legal immigration system, whose H-1 B visa and employment-based green card programmes are woefully inadequate to meet our nation’s economic needs.”

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