More H1-B visas on the way?

Technology companies are on their way to securing a larger pool of foreign workers from which to hire. A provision in a budget measure approved by a late 52 to 47 vote in the U.S. Senate on Thursday would bump up the number of guest-worker visas, known as H-1Bs, from 65,000 to 95,000 for next year. The proposal would also elevate H-1B application fees for U.S. employers by $500, the proceeds of which are intended to offset other government spending and deter sizable increases in the federal budget deficit.

The measure won’t take effect unless it is also approved by the U.S. House of Representatives.

The H-1B program’s intent is to keep U.S. companies globally competitive by allowing them to fill voids with skilled professionals from abroad. Under the program, which began in 1990, foreigners with at least a bachelor’s degree in their area of specialty can remain employed in the United States for up to six years. American Electronics Association President William Archey was quick to applaud the move, saying in a statement that it “sends a strong message to the House of Representatives that the Senate understands the importance of these H1-B visas and green cards to the high-tech industry.” The high-tech industry has long been supportive of elevating the government’s cap on these visas, which peaked at 195,000 from 2001 to 2003.

Other groups, including the U.S. division of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, have argued that the system is used not to bring in the best and the brightest foreign talent, but to some extent, the cheapest. IEEE-USA claims some companies use the system to offer lower wages than they would to the workers’ American counterparts.


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