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Senate Committee vote for increase in H-1B visa

Written by: Staff

Washington, Mar 29 (UNI) The Senate Judiciary Committee of the United States has voted to significantly increase the number of H-1B visas for highly skilled foreign workers as part of a controversial immigration bill that faces a tough fight in the Congress before it becomes law.

This measure to double the number of temporary visas to H-1B skilled-workers to 115,000 -- with an option of raising the cap 20 per cent more each year, was buried in the Senate's giant 300-page Immigration Bill, that got approved 12-6 yesterday.

The bill, once adopted by the Senate and the Congress, would open the country's doors to highly skilled immigrants for science, mathematics, technology and engineering jobs from India, China and other nations.

The H1-B visa provisions were incorporated into the immigration legislation at the insistence of Silicon Valley tech companies and enjoys significant bipartisan support amid concerns that the United States might lose its edge in technology.

Silicon Valley high-tech companies are strongly backing the proposed increase in H-1B visas, which currently are capped at 65,000 a year, according to the California-based Mercury News.

Various exemptions in the programme for certain types of jobs, such as those with non-profit organisations, would mean that around 220,000 foreigners a year now actually receive the six-year visas.

The provision for highly skilled workers was introduced after high-profile studies warned that the United States is not producing enough mathematics and science students and is in danger of losing its global edge in innovation to India and China.

The proposal on H-1B visas, as approved by the Committee would increase the annual cap of H-1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000 beginning in 2007, while keeping all those existing exemptions. It effectively would boost the number of H-1B visas to nearly 300,000 a year.

The plan, written by Republican Committee Chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvannia, would also automatically boost the annual cap by 20 per cent after any year in which the federal government reaches the limit.

Besides, the legislation would create an unlimited number of F-4 visas for students pursuing advanced university degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics, that would allow them to seek permanent residence in the United States if they find a job here.

The high-tech companies say they need more H-1B visas because the growing economy has made it difficult for them to find enough qualified Americans in fields such as mathematics and engineering.

During the dot-com boom, the Congress twice approved a temporary increase in the number of H-1B visas, with the programme topping out at 195,000 a year from 2001 to 2003. The allotment reverted in 2004 to its pre-1998 level of 65,000.

But problems that originally led to the increased cap have returned, with the federal government receiving a large number of applications for this year's allotment that it stopped accepting them on August 12 last year, more than two months before the fiscal year began. President George Bush called on the Congress last month to increase the annual cap, although he did not request a specific number.

After a failed attempt to increase the H-1B visa cap to 95,000 last year, Specter included an increase in his Immigration Bill and boosted the number to 115,000. During a day-long session yesterday, the Committee voted 12-6 to approve the controversial Bill, which strengthens the Border Patrol and allows illegal immigrants to apply for US citizenship without first leaving the country.

The full Senate is expected to begin debating the Bill very soon.


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