25 July 2006

US: Paper calls on lawmakers to make H-1B changes

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The influential Los Angeles Times has called for lawmakers to ensure proposed changes to skilled visas for America are set free from the impasse that has bogged down the Immigration Reform Bill.

The emotional subject of illegal immigration and what to do with the country's estimated 12 million undocumented workers, has seen Congress so far fail to reach a compromise deal that would appease those prepared to give illegals a route to citizenship and conservatives who advocate criminalization of illegals and tighter border security.

Caught up in the same bill are amendments to the H-1B visa programme that would see the quota raised from its current low level of 65,000 to 115,000.

The H-1B visa allows US employers to bring highly skilled and specialty workers from overseas for up to six years and resolve chronic skills shortages, particularly in hi-tech industries.

The problem for employers is the quota is quickly exhausted. All 65,000 H-1B visa places for the next year starting in October were filled within the first two months of the application period - leaving those employers who missed out unable to acquire the visas they need for at least 16 months.

Another proposal would see an extension to the grace period for international students who have recently qualified for a United States institution.

Although an additional 20,000 visa places are provided to keep those skills in the States, many miss out and those who can apply may be forced to leave the country as current legislation only allows them to remain in the country for up to a year after graduation - often falling well before the next batch of H-1B visas is available to them.

In its editorial, the Los Angeles Times argues that the Government should be doing all it can to encourage more skilled migrants to the United States.

"H-1B opponents argue that the visas are abused by the tech sector to suppress labor costs, thereby displacing American jobs. But both Silicon Valley and the Southern California aerospace industry complain of labor shortages, while a national unemployment rate persistently under 5% suggests the economy needs all the brains it can get. Today's H-1B engineer is tomorrow's green-card-holding entrepreneur, creating jobs that might otherwise be shipped overseas."

It added: "Congress should decouple this sensible bill from the looming train wreck of immigration reform. The next generation of tech innovation could depend on it."

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