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13 US governors urge Congress to increase H1-B visa limit

Last updated on: September 13, 2007 08:47 IST

The controversial H1-B visa issue got a fresh lease of life as 13 Governors from the US -- including Democrats and Republicans -- sent a letter to the Congress, exhorting it to revisit the issue since there was a "critical shortage of highly-skilled professionals in math and science to fill the current needs".

The earlier attempts of the Indian IT industry and the US Congress to push for an increase in the number of H1-B visa limit got entangled in the contentious immigration bill that finally got defeated.

The 13 governors including the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, stated in the letter that states are making significant investments in the education sector to be able to find the world's best educated workers among their own countrymen. However, till then, this shortage has to be addressed through foreign skills.

Apart from Schwarzenegger, the letter was signed by Chris Gregoire, Washington; Mitch Daniels, Indiana; Bill Ritter, Colorado; Deval Patrick, Massachusetts; Dave Freudenthal, Wyoming; Eliot Spitzer, New York; Janet Napolitano, Arizona; Jim Doyle, Wisconsin; Kathleen Sebelius, Kansas; Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota; Jim Gibbons, Nevada; and Rick Perry, Texas.

The letter said:  

"As the chief executives of our respective states, we appreciate the enormity of the task involved in reforming our nation's immigration laws. Like you, we recognise the paramount importance of protecting and preserving the safety and interests o the Untied states and its citizens while recognizing the states' and nation's economic needs.

"Fundamentally, we believe that our states' business should be able to find the world's best-educated workers among our own citizens. Toward that end, we continue to make significant investments in match and science education and are ensuring that our states' two-and four-year colleagues and universities are able to accommodate more students who are preparing for high-demand fields, especially in engineering, math and computer science.

"While we concentrate on building a highly skilled and competitive workforce for increasing opportunities in high-tech jobs, unfortunately, today, w e and our nation face a critical shortage of highly skilled professionals in math and science to fill current needs. Until we are able to address this workforce shortage, we must recognize that foreign talent has a role to play in our ability to keep companies located in our state and country; and, therefore, need to ensure the increased availability of temporary H1-B visas, and permanent resident visas (green cards).

"Under the current H1-B system, the number of visas available has been running out faster and faster each year. The current base cap of 65,000 was arbitrarily set in 1990, and today bears no relation to our economy and our state's demand for skilled professionals. In fact, in fiscal year 2007, the supply of H1-B visas did not last eight weeks into the filing period, and ran out more than four months before the fiscal year even began and in fiscal year 2008, the supply ran out on the first day of the filing period.

"Our green card system, also last devised in 1990, faces severe shortages that most heavily impact the high technology industry, forcing some of the most innovative contributors to our economy to wait well in excess of five years for a green card. Because of these delays we are seeing more and more of these talented individuals leave their US jobs and return home.

"If states like ours to remain world leaders in innovation and intend to continue to see the job growth that is so vital to our economies, we must keep our employers in our states an ensure there is a skilled workforce in this country to fill their immediate needs. While wholesale immigration reform may not be possible in the 110th Congress, we urge Congressional action this year that recognizes sates' immediate need to recruit and retain professionals in key sectors, while we continue to produce here at home the skilled workforce our companies need in the long-term."

Kiran Karnik, President Nasscom, in a statement to the media had earlier stated: "We feel that the cap should be large enough to allow market forces to operate freely within it, as happened when it was 1,95,000. Constraining the supply when demand is high gives rise to problems for both the US and the Indian IT companies."

Several congressional proposals too propose expanding the annual cap, but some politicians have voiced their concern that the programme is being abused in a way that replaces American workers or depresses their wages in comparable positions. The issue has also generated a lot of flak from groups representing American tech-workers.

While the demand to increase the number of visas have been due to the fact that the current number of visas available are running out faster and faster every year. The governors have also stressed that the current base cap of 65,000 was arbitrarily set in 1990, and today bears no relation to their economy and their states demand for skilled professionals.

BS Reporter in Mumbai