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May 10, 2000
Indian tech whiz-kids to gain if US lifts curbs on H-1B visas
Indian computer hands will be the main beneficiaries if the US Congressional consensus on removing the limit on the number of H-1B visas to foreigners with prized technical skills, such as computer programmers and electrical engineers, becomes a law.
The House Judiciary Committee, after reviewing several competing measures yesterday, agreed on bill that would remove visa limits for the next three years, apparently in recognition of the demand of high-tech companies in need of workforce.
In previous years, Indians got more than half of the total H-1B visas issued by the US government. "There is general agreement that the economy of this country is best served by some sort of increase,'' said Democratic Congressman Barney Frank.
The committee is expected to formally approve the bill today as it could not do so yesterday for want of quorum. Then the measure would go to the floor of the house for discussion and passage.
A similar bill already has cleared the senate judiciary committee and awaits action as early as this week in the full senate.
H-1B visas are given to foreigners with college degrees to allow them to work in the United States for up to six years. The number of visas is capped at 1,15,000 this year, but is scheduled to fall to 1,07,500 next year and 65,000 per year after that.
According to reports, there are at least 3,00,000 jobs are going unfilled for lack of qualified US applicants. Congressman Lamar Smith, the mover of the bill, spoke about the shortage of American high-tech workers and said, according to a one study, the demand for highly skilled foreign workers is running at least 50,000 ahead of last year.
"Such a demand can indicate an actual shortage of American workers, a spot shortage, a preference for cheap labour or replacement workers, or something else. But because of the importance of the high-tech industry to our economy, I think we should give the industry the benefit of the doubt,'' he added.
Opposing the cap on the number of visas, he said, ''The market should determine how many high-tech workers we need rather than have Congress set limits based on arbitrary numbers.''
The bill also contains provisions that benefit workers and reduce fraud. H-1B visas are available to aliens who are paid at least $ 40,000 a year, unless working at universities. High-tech companies need to employ highly skilled and educated aliens.
Labour unions are critical of the move, arguing that the industry is looking overseas chiefly to hold down wages.
Companies would have to document $ 250,000 in assets to participate in the programme and conduct annual reviews of wages for their American workers to ensure they either stayed the same or rose. A $ 150 fee increase for each visa would be divided between the immigration and naturalisation service and the state department to combat fraud.
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