06 January 2012

Calls to increase US visa quota for skilled migrants

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In 2010, the US approved just 40,000 visas for workers of 'extraordinary ability' to supplement its 150 million strong workforce, prompting calls for more skilled workers to be granted visas.

US visa

With so few workers of 'extraordinary ability' being granted US visas, changes to the country's immigration policies could be on the horizon.

The US grants approximately 140,000 employment visas each year for professionals, workers with advanced degrees and other skilled workers. These visas also have to account for the spouse and any unmarried children of each skilled worker, resulting in just less than half of this total receiving a US visa.

Another derided aspect of the current policy is the proportion of visas allocated to each country; regardless of a country's size, there is a cap on the number of visas allowed from each nation. For example, the most populous country in the world with over 1.5 billion people, China, receives just short of 3,000 visas while Greenland with its population of just 56,000, received the same number; with a population almost 27,000 times greater than Greenland, this proportion hardly seems fair.

It has been shown that highly skilled immigrants are more likely to create new innovations and patents as well as start new companies than native US citizens. Of all the companies in Silicon Valley, over half were started by immigrants. Immigrants with science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) degrees have been show to create more jobs with higher wages for American citizens.

With such stringent immigration margins, combined with the fact that many of the international highly skilled professionals seeking immigration to the US were educated there before being expected to leave, it is therefore unsurprising that calls to review the current system are gathering more and more support.

A bill to relax the current restriction on employment visas made it through the US House of Representatives in November with an overwhelming majority before being blocked in the Senate for 'tactical reasons' by a Republican Represenative. However, proposals have already been put forward by members of both political parties to "staple" green cars to the diplomas of foreign students who successfully graduate from US universities; an idea which has already received support from President Obama as well as Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

With immigration such a touchy subject, it is unlikely that any radical reforms will take place during an election year but the seed for change has firmly been planted and, with the US economy still on unsteady ground, policies which could encourage long term employment for US citizens can appear more attractive than ever. 

The American Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people with their ESTA visa application.

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