21 October 2010

US Visa guest worker programs under fire amidst high unemployment in America

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Economic issues and high unemployment has brought the H-1B visa program and other visas under tremendous criticism, with calls for massive reforms or outright elimination.

US Visa

US Visa guest worker programs are under fire with increased unemployment around the country, particularly in major cities.

The H-1B and L-1 visas are non-immigrant US visas that allow the entry of highly skilled foreign workers in speciality occupations, usually in software, engineering and computer science fields. Hundreds of thousands of foreign workers have come to the United States in recent decades under the H-1B and L-1 visa programs: India currently accounts for about half of all these guest-workers, with China accounting for about 10 per cent.

The visa lasts three years but can be extended to a maximum of six years, however, if the employer sponsors the H-1B worker for permanent residence, the duration can be extended indefinitely beyond the six years, in one-year increments.

The US government has recently moved to dramatically increase the cost of applying for these visas, which has the drawn criticism from India that protective markets are counterproductive to economic growth and bilateral ties. The increase in US visa application costs have been estimated to impact on Indian companies in the US to the tune of around $200 million a year.

 Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY, who has written extensively on the subject, said these US visa programs need immediate and substantial overhaul because they are riddled with abuses that hurt both the foreign workers as well as US workers that are replaced by cheaper foreign labor.

“The goals of the H-1B and L-1 visa programs have been to bring in foreign workers who complement the U.S. workforce. Instead, loopholes in both programs have made it too easy to bring in cheaper foreign workers, with ordinary skills, who directly substitute for, rather than complement, workers already in the country. They are clearly displacing and denying opportunities to US workers.”

Mr Hira says these loopholes also provide an unfair competitive advantage to companies specializing in offshore outsourcing, undercutting companies that hire American workers.

The American Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in helping people with their ESTA application to the US Embassy.

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