Indians to corner majority of H1B visas in US

March 31st, 2008 - 10:36 pm ICT by admin  

By Parveen Chopra
New York, March 31 (IANS) A lottery is expected to grant the available 65,000 H-1B visas in the US as demand far outstrips supply, but a majority of them will again be cornered by Indian high-tech professionals, say immigration attorneys as they rush to file applications starting April 1 on behalf of American businesses. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is expected to pick the lottery within a week, but the anxious wait for the applicants may continue for months as the department starts returning unsuccessful applications and sends receipts for the others. Those who get the three-year visa for skilled professionals can start work from Oct 1.

While there were about 124,000 applications last year, the number this year may cross 150,000, Michael Phulwani, one of the first Indian origin immigration lawyers in the US, told IANS.

Many will also be vying for the 20,000 H-1B visas meant for foreigners with US-earned masters’ or higher degrees.

“About 60-70 percent of all applications are expected to be on behalf of Indians,” said Naresh Gehi, a New York lawyer, who is filing about 40 applications. The flow is unaffected by the recent downturn in the US economy or improved prospects in India, he believed.

Gehi, like many others including Microsoft’s Bill Gates, argued, “There is a crying need to raise the H-1B cap as American businesses will benefit from hiring foreign highly skilled workers.”

A new bill introduced in the Congress aims to raise the cap to 195,000, and another bill seeks to boost the cap as well as exempt foreigners educated at US institutions from the quota. But no progress is expected before the next president takes over in early 2009.

Countering the criticism that the system allows in cheap labour and takes away jobs from US citizens, Phulwani cited a recent study by the National Foundation for American Policy that found that on an average every foreign national on an H1B visa generates another five to 7.5 jobs.

He pointed out that the sponsoring companies in their petitions have to specify the offered salary, which has to adhere to the prevalent market rates. “There is some abuse which can be tightened,” he added.

To stop another kind of abuse, USCIS has issued a new rule that prohibits employers from filing more than one petition for a single employee in a fiscal year.

Indian outsourcing companies attracted criticism recently when the federal government released data showing that they accounted for nearly 80 percent of the visa petitions approved last year for the top 10 participants in the H1B programme.

Infosys had 4,559 and Wipro 2,567 approved visa petitions in the programme, which was initially set up to allow companies in the US to import the best and brightest in technology, engineering, and other fields when such workers are in short supply in America.

Many companies, from India and elsewhere, get around the H1B visa caps anyway by taking the L-1 visa route, meant for intra-company transfers.

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