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IT groups push Congress to raise H-1B visa limits

The 65,000-visa cap was reached in August

October 3, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Nikita Dolgov is a software engineer who lives in Moscow and would like to get an H-1B visa to work in the U.S. He's aware of the controversy surrounding the visa program, but that hasn't lessened his desire to work here.
"This is the original country for computer science," Dolgov said of the U.S. during a telephone interview last week. "This is the ultimate place."
But it's getting harder for people like Dolgov to get into the U.S. The cap of 65,000 new visas for the federal government's 2006 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, was reached in August -- the earliest that has ever happened. Dolgov tried to get a visa, but his application arrived too late.
There's now a push by high-tech industry groups to get the cap adjusted by Congress before it adjourns this year. But whatever happens is likely to be part of a broader immigration reform package, according to industry lobbyists and others seeking changes.
Among the ideas that may appear in legislative proposals is a flexible cap that would provide a method for increasing the annual H-1B limits once a certain level is reached. That would allow the number of new visas to "rise as needed," said Lynn Shotwell, executive director of the American Council on International Personnel, a Washington-based group that represents companies on immigration issues.
Proposed reforms may also include a measure to allow some foreign workers, in particular those who hold advanced degrees from U.S. universities, to get permanent residency and bypass the H-1B program, according to people familiar with the efforts.
Supporters of a higher H-1B cap, such as Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America in Arlington, Va., aren't sure Congress will act on the issue this year because hurricane relief issues are taking precedence. But Miller said that the use of foreign workers is critical to U.S. companies and that the exhausted fiscal 2006 cap is an "example of the U.S. hurting its global competitiveness."
U.S. employers aren't without options, however.

Proposed changes to the H-1B program may include:
  • A flexible cap on new visas.
  • Permanent residency for people who hold advanced degrees from U.S. schools, with no need for them to secure H-1B visas.
  • Congress last year approved an additional 20,000 visas annually beyond the cap, specifically for foreign nationals who have earned advanced degrees in the U.S. More than 13,000 of those visas have been claimed for the new fiscal year, and Shotwell thinks the remainder will be gone by December.
    U.S. companies can also hire Australian citizens under the new E-3 visa program.The E-3 has been compared to the H-1B, but it's limited to residents of Australia and capped at 10,500 visas per year. Miller said he's skeptical about the E-3 program, adding that he doesn't think many Australian technology workers want to come to the U.S.
    But the willingness of workers from many other countries to take jobs in the U.S. still appears to be strong.
    "There is no dearth of jobs for the qualified in India, but a U.S. job is quite another thing," said Manu Sharma, a New Delhi-based e-commerce consultant. "It's seen as a career landmark, like a prestigious MBA, that guarantees strong career growth."

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