Controversial visa program allows foreign-born tech pros to work in the U.S. for up to six years.
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Foreign nationals seeking high-tech and other specialty employment in the U.S. can submit applications for H-1B visas for the 2013 fiscal year beginning Monday, April 2, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has announced.
Visas obtained after that date allow workers to begin employment starting Oct. 1. The numerical limit of 65,000 H-1B visas for the current fiscal year, not including 20,000 reserved for those with a master's degree or higher from a U.S. university, was reached on Nov 22.
H-1B visas allow foreigners to work in the U.S. for three years, and can be renewed for one additional three-year period. Although the visas are used by workers in occupations as diverse as fashion modeling and journalism, the majority of them are obtained by IT professionals--particularly those from countries such as India with burgeoning tech sectors and educational programs.
The program isn't without controversy. Backers, including major computer companies such as Microsoft and Oracle, say it's necessary in order to make up for what they claim is a shortage of American-born IT workers, especially when it comes to skills related to hot new technologies such as cloud and mobile computing.
H-1B supporters cite studies that indicate that the program actually helps to create jobs for Americans. "In today's global marketplace, we cannot afford to keep turning away those with skills that our country needs to grow and to succeed," said New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, during a speech last October sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
A study released this month claims that H-1B visas are becoming more difficult to obtain.
Application rejection rates rose to 17% in fiscal 2011, compared to 11% in fiscal 2007, according to research by the National Foundation for American Policy. NFAP said the higher rejection rates are "harming the competitiveness of U.S. employers and encouraging companies to keep more jobs and resources outside the United States."
Critics of the program, however, question claims of a skills shortage and suggest that H-1B visas are merely a way for corporations to import cheap labor, at the expense of U.S. workers. Last year, American IT worker Jack Palmer sued India-based outsourcer Infosys, accusing the company of systematically discriminating against Americans in its U.S. hiring practices.
Palmer also alleged that Infosys' management openly discussed ways of flouting H-1B rules during meetings at which he was present. The case remains pending in Alabama circuit court.
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