12 June 2006

H-1B concern as limit reached

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Barely three months since they began accepting applications for the H-1B worker visa programme, the US Citizenship and Immigration Service has announced it has already reached its limit for the next fiscal year.

USCIS began accepting petitions on April 1st and has now reached the congressional cap of 65,000 H-1B visas for 2007 - forcing companies with critical skills shortages to wait another year before they can solve the problem by hiring international workers.

The H-1B programme permits foreign workers with at least a bachelor's degree in their area of specialty to be employed in the US for up to six years, and with demand for these workers outstripping supply, there have been renewed calls for the limit to be raised.

"This is unprecedented. It marks the second year in a row that the H-1B cap has been prematurely reached,” said Deborah J. Notkin, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).

"It is another example of the country's broken immigration system and why we need Congress to pass the Senate's comprehensive immigration bill which solves this annual dilemma."

The Immigration reform bill is currently being hotly debated by Congress, with the Senate and House of Representatives looking to reach a compromise over the extent of the new reforms. Included in the proposed new legislation is a bill that would raise the H-1B cap to 115,000 (1999 levels), but the impasse over what to do with the country's estimated 12m illegal immigrants looks set to prevent the plans being approved any time soon.

"It's just more bad news for American employers," continued Notkin.

"The exhaustion of this fiscal year's H-1B visas impedes growth and innovation, and makes it more difficult for U.S. businesses to stay competitive. Some employers are sending work overseas, because there are not enough qualified Americans. A workable H-1B program with an increased initial limit and flexibility to adjust the limit based on economic conditions would give U.S. employers access to the talent they need and help retain jobs in America diminishing the need for off-shoring."

Microsoft founder Bill Gates has been just one of many business leaders to lend their weight to the campaign for the H-1B cap to be raised significantly, remarking recently that his company has employees waiting at the border ready to come to work but cannot because of the current restrictions on the H1B visa program.

To qualify for an H-1B visa, applicants must have at least a bachelor’s degree, specialized knowledge and a job offer from an American employer. The visa is valid for an initial period of three years, which may be extended for an additional three years.

Typically, H-1B occupations include scientists, architects, engineers, systems analysts, accountants, doctors, and college professors.


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