TechAmerica renews drive to increase H-1b visas
US Citizenship and Immigration Services to begin accepting applications on April 1
- By Alice Lipowicz
- Mar 30, 2011
Two days before the April 1 annual application period begins for H-1b visas for skilled foreign workers, the TechAmerica Foundation is renewing its call to reform the visa system to allow more highly skilled foreign-born scientists and engineers to work in the United States.
The TechAmerica Foundation’s Immigration Committee today urged Congress to increase access to H-1b and L-1 visas and improve adjudication procedures for the sake of competitiveness.
About one in every four scientist and engineer in the United States is foreign-born, according to TechAmerica.
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In addition, 54 percent of doctoral degrees in math, 60 percent in computer science degrees, and 65 percent in engineering awarded in the U.S. go to foreign nationals. For master’s degrees, the overall average is 40 percent.
By attracting the best and brightest, the United States can maintain its global competitiveness and ultimately create more new jobs and benefit the domestic economy, TechAmerica said.
“Today’s immigration system is hindering current and future competitiveness, innovation, and job creation in the U.S.,” TechAmerica President Phil Bond said in a news release. “We must act now to ensure that the U.S. does not lose its competitive edge for innovation. High-skilled immigration reform legislation needs to promote effective and transparent visa processing, adjudication, and reporting requirements, and must address the challenges and limitations skilled industries and employees face with H-1B and L-1 visas and green cards.”
Under the current system, employers file petitions for H-1b foreign workers each April 1. The total number of visas is capped by Congress, and in previous years the cap often was reached in hours or days after April 1. The number of H-1b visas initially was capped at 65,000 per year, and it has risen and fallen from year to year, as Congress added various stipulations. In most years, demand exceeded the cap.
The L-1 visa allows U.S. companies to transfer workers in their foreign subsidiaries to work within the U.S. for up to seven years.
The H-1b visa program was created by Congress in 1990 to allow U.S. employers to hire skilled foreign workers, including recent foreign-born graduates in science and technology. Microsoft Corp. and other federal contractors are strong advocates for H-1b visas, but some American IT workers believe it has a dampening effect on wages.
The Government Accountability Office recently recommended that Congress reevaluate the program because it questioned whether it was working effectively and might not be protecting American workers
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which administers the H-1b visa program, recently proposed allowing employers to register electronically with USCIS in advance of the application period. If demand starts to exceed supply, registration would be halted, and only those who registered would be allowed to apply for the available slots.
The goal of the proposed new system is to save employers the time and expense of filling out the lengthy applications when the number of applications far exceeds available slots.
Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.