South Asians track proposal on worker visa program

While push is on for immigration overhaul, some senators advocate for a separate increase in H-1B quota

January 28, 2013

(AP Photo/Win McNamee, Pool)
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah reaches out to shake a hand on the West Front of the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013. The senator supports raising the yearly quota of H1-B visas.

As Congress considers the outlines to sweeping, bipartisan immigration reform, some U.S. senators are mounting a separate effort geared towards highly skilled workers. According to a Senate aide, The Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 would increase the yearly quota of H-1B visas to 115,000, and would authorize dependent spouses of those visa holders to work in the U.S.

H-1B visas are temporary, employer-sponsored permits for educated, specialized workers. This year, the quota allowed for 65,000 H-1B visas, plus an additional 20,000 for foreign nationals who received advanced degrees in this country. According to a 2011 US Government Accountability Office report, nearly half of H-1B visas went to Indian nationals between 2000 and 2009. During those years, more than 40 percent were for IT jobs.

“There definitely is a need by U.S. employers and Chicago-based employers, a need and an interest in increasing the quota,” said Kathleen Gaber, an attorney and chair of the immigration group at Chicago-based law firm Masuda, Funai, Eifert & Mitchell. “Over the past five or six years, the quota has been reached earlier and earlier,” she explained.

Employers may submit their petitions for H-1B visas as early as April 1, six months before the start of the federal fiscal year. During the recession, there were some years that it took several months to fill the quota, but Gaber said more recent data show evidence that the economic recovery is having an effect. “Last year the quota was reached on June 7, and this year the immigration community is predicting that the quota will be reached within the first couple of days of filing,” she noted.

“If you talk to any employer or any HR person in IT in any company, they will say, you know, we are finding it very difficult to get the right resources now,” said Shoji Mathew, President of the North American Association of Indian IT Professionals. NAAIIP, based in Chicago, represents both employers and employees. “The jobs in IT have increased a lot,” he explained. He added that, at the same time, the US has not kept up with the number of graduates in the fields of science and technology.

Mathew lauded the effort to raise the H-1B quota, but said there need to be additional changes to the program. “They need to streamline the (application) process, or some kind of an e-filing system,” he said, citing employers’ complaints that immigration officials take several months to process applications. “They ask for hundreds of documents. So they need to be very particular on ok, this is the exact number of documents you need to submit.”

The act’s sponosors include senators Orrin Hatch of Utah and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.