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Immigration law could raise number of H-1B visas

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Lawmakers in Washington, D.C. are suggesting changes to a class of temporary work visas. One senator has proposed adding 55,000 H-1B visas to the 85,000 spots already available. The potential expansion of H-1B visas comes in response to requests from business leaders, who say that there is a shortage of capable employees in engineering and science. According to Boeing's CEO, high-technology industries could employ as many as 2 million additional people, but not enough applicants meet the job criteria.

U.S. colleges and universities graduate many foreign mathematicians, scientists and engineers with the requisite skills to contribute to American companies, but current U.S. immigration policy forces many to work in other countries, said the CEO. In order to qualify for one of the additional H-1B visa spots, immigrants would have to demonstrate that they have received an offer of employment from a company in the U.S.

While proponents say the proposed law would benefit American companies and highly-skilled immigrants, it is unknown whether the law has the broad-based support of enough legislators to pass in an election year. In particular, Democrats have expressed a desire to enact wholesale changes to the nation's immigration policy, rather than perform piecemeal alterations.

The law contains more provisions than adding slots to the H-1B visa program, however. It would offset the additional visas with an equivalent reduction in "diversity visas," which are slated for immigrants who come from nations that typically have few immigrants to this country. The law also has measures to help open doors in colleges and the armed forces for children of illegal immigrants who are seeking higher education or military service.

Due to temporary work visas' limited numbers, competition for them can be significant. Immigrants seeking an H-1B visa should be sure of the necessary criteria and steps required to earn one.

Source: Reuters, "Senator seeks expanded visas for foreign high-tech workers," Richard Cowan and Andrea Shalal-Esa, May 15, 2012.

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