US raises quota of foreign workers

The US has approved an increase in the number of H-1B guestworker visas by 20,000 but limited them to postgraduates of US...

The US has approved an increase in the number of H-1B guestworker visas by 20,000 but limited them to postgraduates of US universities.

Businesses such as Microsoft and Intel and high-tech trade groups have been urging Congress to take action, while unions wanted to keep this year's cap at 65,000.

That cap was reached at the start of the US fiscal year in October - the first time the visas had been issued so quickly.

Al Gray, executive director of the National Society of Professional Engineers, said there were "no really serious shortages" of engineering and high-tech jobs and said that visa holders would be competing for US jobs.

But high-tech trade groups said the increase did not go high enough. "Our number is closer to 50,000" extra visas needed, said John Palafoutas of technology trade association AEA. "This problem is not going to go away, given that some of our foreign competitors are producing more highly trained maths and science postgraduates than we are."

Jeff Lande, senior vice-president at the Information Technology Association of America, said the increase was not going to solve the need, but would alleviate some of the pressure.

Joanna Smith Bers, managing director of management consultancy DB Marketing, which hires workers on H-1B visas, said she had had trouble finding job candidates from US schools with strong maths and statistics training who also understood marketing and business. US courses "seem to stress people plugging numbers into formulas", she said.

Bers said she thought US graduate and undergraduate courses were failing students in certain areas, whereas in India and China, training in statistical analysis was "hotly pursued".

Patrick Thibodeau writes for Computerworld

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