Obama’s new commerce pick may push for expanding H-1B cap

February 5th, 2009 - 11:49 am ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWashington, Feb 5 (IANS) President Barack Obama’s new pick as commerce secretary, Senator Judd Gregg, may well become the White House lead for expanding the cap on H-1B visas, a bulk of which go to Indian firms.Gregg, who strongly supported expanding the H-1B visa programme in the Senate, is among a group of people in top White House posts that also see offshore outsourcing as a plus for the US economy, the Computer World magazine reported.

Obama himself voiced support early in his campaign for increasing the 85,000-visa cap, which includes 20,000 visas set aside for advanced-degree graduates from US universities. But he has not addressed the issue in recent months.

In a talk last April at the Cato Institute, a libertarian policy research group, Gregg pointed to comments by Bill Gates that for every H-1B worker who comes to the US, five jobs are created, the tech publication noted.

“It’s not like… we are taking jobs from Americans, which is what you hear from labour unions. We’re actually creating jobs by bringing bright people into this country,” Gregg said.

Many in Congress are divided on the H-1B issue. For instance, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley believes H-1B workers are being used to displace Americans.

Gregg acknowledged that there has been some abuse in the H-1B programme, “especially involving Indian-related companies and their basic flooding of the market in this area and then having people return to India with knowledge that they gained here.”

But, he argued, that’s an issue “that can be corrected fairly easily with minor adjustments in the programme.”

Indian offshore firms are the largest users of H-1B visas and consider it critical to their delivery model for moving IT functions offshore. It’s a point they have made repeatedly in US Security and Exchange Commission filings.

Apart from Gregg another one of Obama’s choices, Diana Farrell, may be just as important in shaping White House policy, the Computer World said.

The former director of the McKinsey Global Institute, McKinsey & Co.’s economics research arm, Farrell has been tapped to serve on the National Economic Council and as deputy economic adviser to the president.

McKinsey, a management consulting firm, has published research that argues that offshore outsourcing to low-wage countries brings “substantial benefits” to the US. Its studies and reports have been cited by the tech industry in support of the H-1B visa programme.

Tech industry groups praised Gregg’s appointment in statements. TechNet, a bipartisan political network of tech-centric CEOs, said Gregg “will no doubt be a strong ambassador for America’s workers, businesses and our dynamic economy.”

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