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H1-B: The elusive visa H1-B: The elusive visa
by Jon Andrews
2006-09-07 10:26:57
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The economy of the United States is now being threatened by every emerging economy in the world. With India, Japan and Korea hot on the heels of the American dominated technology industry some are getting worried. The core of the issue is that there simply aren't enough "skilled workers" in America. Engineering student numbers have been dropping year on year and more so since the end of "The Boom" years. So, why has the American administration not taken decisive action?

Previously a large number of the "skilled worker" positions needed to compete with foreign companies has been brought into the country using an immigrant worker program. It is this program which is the focus of criticism from both sides of this debate. Firstly, some lobbyist complain that legal immigrant workers are taking American jobs. Of course they neglect to mention the number of jobs which are taken by illegal immigrants because American workers won't do the jobs. Secondly there's the high-tech companies who say they can't compete as they're only able to bring a limited number of immigrant workers into the country.

I have been in the middle of this debate for well over a year. In a quest to move to California to continue my career in computer software I've been keeping a close eye on events. To work in America for a new company I'd need to acquire a visa known as an H1-B. This visa is valid for 3 years (extendable to 7). However, the bizarre thing is that I cannot apply for a visa myself, only a prospective employer can. Sounds crazy doesn't it. You cannot get a job offer without a visa, since you can't legally work, yet you need the job offer so the prospective employer can apply for the visa.

The H1-B visa program is now a shadow of its former self. There is a cap of 65,000 visas issued in any 12 month period (starting from April each year), much lower than the previous limit of 115,000 in 2004. This year the cap was reached on May 28th, less than two months after the start of applications. This limit is supposed to be enough to last the entire year. It's clear that either the limit is wrong or companies are not trying hard enough to find the workers inside America. The sickening thing for anyone who applied and didn't get a visa is that they can't apply until April 2007. Even then they won't be able to start work on the visa until October 2007.

So how hard is it to actually get a visa? Well it all depends how's applying for it. If a large multinational hires a good immigration lawyer then it's not that hard. There's a mountain of paperwork to complete then a number of documents that must be presented. The most entertaining is the justification that the applicant is a skilled worker.

Having read some of these it wouldn't surprise me if someone actually included "magic skills, super-hero powers" under their abilities. It must also be accompanied by a document assessing the applicant's degree as if it had been gained from a US academic institution. A few months then pass and the successful applicant received a form to take to the US Embassy to actually get the visa. A process which used to take one or two months can now take three.

The argument of H1-B holders will probably go on for a long time but it's clear that US companies really do want employees with skills that can't be found on their own shores. The problem in my opinion is deep rooted in the American education system where engineering is not at the same level as that found in other countries like India (the nation with the most H1-B nationals)

Thankfully I am now in possession of a much sought after H1-B visa. It's valid from October so by the time the next Ovi PDF magazine comes out I'll have moved over there. Watch out for more to come from an Englishman trying to make himself understood in the laid back Californian lifestyle.


  
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