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Immigration Bill introduced for double H-1B visa


Washington, March 14, 2006
Ram Parsad

The measures include nearly doubling the number of H-1B skilled-worker temporary visas to 115,000 — with an option of raising the cap 20 percent more each year. H-1B visas were highly controversial in the Bay Area when their numbers reached a peak of 195,000 in 2003.

The provisions were sought by Silicon Valley tech companies and enjoy significant bipartisan support amid concern that the United States might lose its lead in technology. They would broaden avenues to legal immigration for foreign tech workers and would put those with advanced degrees on an automatic path to permanent residence should they want it.

After Sept. 11, 2001, Congress quietly allowed the number of H-1B visas to plummet back to 65,000 a year.The cap was reached in August — in effect turning off the tap of the visas for 14 months. A special exemption of 20,000 visas for workers with advanced degrees was reached in January. Now Indian and Chinese students face brighter prospects in their own booming economies, and the fear now is that they no longer want to come to the United States.

Other provisions include a new F-4 visa category for students pursuing advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. These students would be granted permanent residence if they find a job in their field and pay a $1,000 fee toward scholarships and training for U.S. workers

"The U.S. is educating these people," said Kara Calvert, director of government relations for the Information Technology Industry Council, a tech industry group. "This allows these students to remain in the U.S. and contribute to the U.S. economy."

The provisions for highly skilled workers enjoy support in both parties in the Senate and in the Bush administration after a raft of high-profile studies have warned that the United States is not producing enough math and science students and is in danger of losing its global edge in innovation to India and China.

Many U.S. companies don't even bother to recruit Americans because they can find foreigners willing to work longer hours for less pay. The U.S. immigration system has forced more companies to move work to other countries. In recent years, companies such as Microsoft, Intel and Motorola Inc. have pumped billions of dollars into research centers in China and India.

Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy echoed many in the tech industry at a conference in Washington on Wednesday when he warned that if skilled immigration is not expanded, "There will be a great sucking sound of innovation out of the U.S."

The H1-b allows for renewals with a maximum stay of six years. Those who apply for Green Cards (also called Resident Alien or Permanent Residence) can have their H1-bs extended beyond that time as long as 365 days had elapsed since the filing of a work-related Green Card referred to as a Labor Certification, or other EB (employment-based) case.

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