Thursday, September 28, 2006

Visas for Skilled Workers Still Frozen

Read the full article by S. Mitra Kalita in The Washington Post, September 28, 2006.

"A bill that passed the Senate this spring would have doubled the number of visas issued every year for highly skilled professionals, such as scientists and engineers. And it would have helped clear a backlog of applications for permanent residency from such workers.

"But the attempt by Congress to rewrite the nation's immigration laws has bogged down in controversy over border security and illegal immigration. That means changes in the skilled-worker programs, while less controversial, are also in limbo."

Only 65,000 H-1B visas are issued each year, much less than the demand. The Senate plan would have nearly doubled the H-1B quota to 115,000 a year, and it would have helped clear a backlog of green-card applications. Resident scientists and engineers also have very long waiting times for green-cards.

I know that some U.S. workers in these highly skilled categories feel the inflow of foreign competition is holding down their wages. Perhaps that is true, but perhaps not. We know that there are synergies in the areas with high concentrations of high tech firms and workers, and it may be that the faster they grow, the more competitive they are, and the more resources there are to spread around. Certainly the growth of these industries creates jobs selling groceries, providing medical services, teaching kids, building houses, not to mention manning the fast food restaurants and providing maintenance services. Lets break the log-jam on this legislation!

There is another argument, that the United States importing all these useful folk creates a brain drain. That is another matter. But I note that India and China, which have rapidly growing high tech industries seem to be able to staff them, and indeed to draw home good people when they have meaningful employment and good working conditions to offer.

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