H-1B Visa Cap Must Go, Says NYC Mayor

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is calling for "eliminating the cap on H-1B visas" because restrictive U.S. visa policies -- particularly limitations on employment-based green cards -- are a form of "national suicide."

In a speech late last month at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce offices in Washington, Bloomberg said that "temporary visas like the H-1B program help fill critical gaps in our workforce, but the numbers are too few and the filing process too long and unpredictable."

Bloomberg has long called for eliminating the visa cap to ease access to employment-based green cards. He's also an advocate of altering visa policies to attract foreign entrepreneurs and encourage foreign students to stay in the U.S.

His latest comments come at a time when demand for H-1B visas is relatively light -- as is IT hiring overall. Before the recession, all available year-long visas were snapped up in a week.

In his speech, Bloomberg didn't address arguments from H-1B opponents, who view the visa as a way for companies to bring in low-cost employees or displace U.S.-based workers through offshore outsourcing.

Instead, he said that foreign workers are critical to U.S. economic success.

Bloomberg contended that the rapid exhaustion of H-1B visas in the early 2000s caused "critical shortfalls" in the software industry and in fields like engineering, electronics, pharmaceuticals, medical research and aerospace. "[It's] absurd to deny American companies access to the workers they need," he said.

Just prior to the start of the U.S. government's 2012 fiscal year on Oct. 1, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had received 48,900 petitions for H-1B visas -- representing about 57% of the 85,000 visas available for 2012.

The downturn in demand is tied to the economy, said Vic Goel, an immigration attorney. It shows that visa usage "does ebb and flow with the state of the economy," which helps to make the case for less restrictive policies, he added.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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