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February 5, 2000
H1-B visa quota getting exhausted
A P Kamath
Washington has nearly exhausted this year's quota of H1-B visas.
Immigration lawyers say the cap of 115,000 visas was to have been reached by March but, because of high demand for computer programmers, architects and educators, the quota will be met in a few days.
"What our members in the field are saying is that they don't think there will be enough H1-B visas to go around," says Matthew Tallmer, a spokesman for the American Immigration and Naturalization Service. Many hi-tech firms like Intel and Sun Microsystems have been saying for several months that they are frustrated in their hunt for skilled workers.
Opponents of H1-B visas say many people slip into America pretending to be computer workers and, instead of working in technical areas where they could get anything between $ 50,000 and $ 70,000, opt for low-paying jobs.
Congress will have to decide whether it wants to increase the number of H1-B visas, to keep it at 115,000 or go back to the 1998 quota of 65,000. That quota was upped with the understanding that, in 2,000, the previous ceiling would return.
Among the Congressmen backing the increase in the number of H1-B visas is Spencer Abraham, a Midwest Republican; among its most strident critics is the liberal Massachusetts Democrat Congressman Edward Kennedy.
Kennedy believes that while many employers pay the H1-B holders far less than the market rate, the industry is not doing anything much to train more Americans for hi-tech jobs.
The shortage of qualified technical workers, Kennedy asserted last year, was "an embarrassing indictment of our failure to provide adequate training for American workers".
"There's no reason why we shouldn't develop the kind of training programs and kind of initiatives to... provide these kinds of skills to American workers so that they can have the jobs," Kennedy had said.
Congress has allotted many millions to enhance the number of skilled hi-tech workers, but market leaders say they cannot afford to wait for a new army of hi-tech programmers.
Abraham says while business leaders and the Commerce Department expect hi-tech jobs to grow by 130,000 a year, they also suspect America will produce only 25 per cent of the people needed for those jobs.
Meanwhile, opponents of increased H1-B visas are getting ready to wage yet another battle to limit the visas, particularly after the scandal in Berkeley where the city's richest landlord, Lakireddy Bali Reddy and his son have been charged with misusing visas.
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