December 22, 2008
Dear President-Elect Obama,
As you take office, the many problems this country is facing are probably dominating every second of your day. It may seem, given our present economic situation, and the need to focus resources on other pressing issues and long legislative agenda in Washington, DC. that immigration reform should take the back seat for now. However, some aspects of immigration reform, such as an increase in the annual H-1B cap, would actually contribute to, and not hurt, an attempt to remedy the economy. Many Cities like Detroit, Michigan, Cleveland, Ohio and Columbus, Ohio to name a few can certainly benefit from a pro H-1B policy.
The purpose of this message is to outline the reasons why the H-1B cap should be increased and to address the concerns of opponents to an increase to the H-1B cap.
The H-1B visa, or at least the concept behind it, is a historically important part of our country’s immigration law. This visa has been a driving force for innovation and a vehicle by which to attract the top talent and skills from across the globe. The H-1B visa allows foreign nationals with a Bachelor’s or more advanced degree (or the equivalent of those degrees through experience) to work temporarily in the United
Starting with the Immigration Act of 1990, Congress arbitrarily fixed a numerical limit, referred to as a cap, for the number of H-1Bs that would be available each year. The H-1b cap was set at 65,000 per year. Several exemptions from this H-1B cap have been added via subsequent legislation, the most important of which is 20,000 visas for persons holding a U.S. Master’s degree. The cap has been increased for some years, notably from 1999 to 2003, reaching a maximum of 195,000 per year.
But since 2004, though, the cap has been reduced back to its pre-1999 level of 65,000. On top of this, the actual number of H-1Bs available in the general pool is reduced to 58,200 by the Free Trade Agreements that the U.S. has with Singapore and Chile, which reserve 6,800 H-1Bs for persons from those countries.
The reversion of available H-1B visas to the 65,000 cap has caused a massive failure in meeting the demand of U.S. companies seeking to hire skilled employees, especially in the computer-technology industry. For example, for FY 2008, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services received enough H-1B applications to exhaust the cap on the first day of the filing season. And for FY 2009, approximately 163,000 applications were filed when the filing season began.
The failure to meet the employment demands of U.S. companies diminishes the ability of those companies to maintain their viability and competitiveness in the global market. Companies that rely on professional skill which is not readily available within the domestic work force endure lower productively than actually possible due to their inability to obtain visas for skilled foreign workers. Without qualified employees, growth in these companies is halted and revenue does not increase as it could.
Companies in such a situation are faced with two alternatives, both of which have negative impacts on our economy: they must either hire workers to be employed offshore or the workers will seek employment with competitors abroad. In the first case, compensation paid to offshore employees does not get pumped back into our economy, as it would if those employed lived and worked in our country. In the second case, projects that cannot be completed by U.S. companies will be sent to foreign competitor businesses that are able to hire skilled workers that could not get visas to the U.S.
to be continued soon…