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6/12/2008
12:57 PM
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Congressman Wants Foreign Models Off Tech Visas

Currently, foreign models who want to work in the United States require H-1B visas, which are normally used by computer programmers and other high-tech workers.

Around 1,000 additional tech workers may get visas to work in the United States next year, and they may have fashion models to thank.

That's because foreign-born models and programmers will no longer have to duke it out for the same visa slots if a New York congressman gets his way.

Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., has introduced a bill in the House that would create a new, nonimmigrant classification reserved exclusively for the catwalkers. Currently, foreign models who want to work in the United States require H-1B visas, which are normally used by computer programmers and other high-tech workers.

Weiner wants Congress to amend current visa rules to allow 1,000 foreign models into the United States each year under their own immigrant classification, a move that would free up additional slots for technology workers.

Still, demand for H-1B visas would continue to far outpace supply.

The United States makes 65,000 H-1B visas available each year. But the new allotments are typically snapped up within the first weeks of availability, leaving hopefuls to wait another year for a chance to work in the country.

American tech vendors, along with Indian firms with stateside offices, typically use the lion's share of the allotment to import programmers into the country. Infosys, Wipro, Satyam, Cognizant, and Microsoft were the top H-1B users in 2007, according to the federal government.

Those firms and others are lobbying Congress to increase the H-1B cap, arguing that it limits their access to talent. Last year, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates told lawmakers that the United States faces a "critical shortage" of tech workers.

Opponents of the H-1B program, including the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, have accused Microsoft and other tech companies of exaggerating the worker crunch to justify importing lower-paid foreign labor or outsourcing tech work to countries in which workers are paid pennies on the dollar compared with their U.S. counterparts.

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