Even as the number of new H-1B visas to bring skilled workers from India to the United States has been brought down to 65,000 from 195,000, US Congress is planning to further tighten provisions on the visas giving employers less flexibility in using them and making them a riskier bet for foreign employees seeking a long-term future in America.
The H-1B visa is used to bring skilled workers -- mostly IT professionals -- into the US. The visa is valid for six years, although it has to be renewed after three years.
Introducing legislation on the visas in July, Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd said the loopholes in the current law allows companies to bring in foreigners, "pay them less and replace good paying American jobs, otherwise held by American citizens." His legislation has a companion bill in the Lower House and both have bipartisan support.
There is also a separate legislation in the House of Representatives that would impose a 35,000-person annual cap on L-1 visas and add further restrictions, The Wall Street Journal reported.
About 314,000 L-1 visas were issued in 2002, both to workers and their relatives. Among the proposed restrictions are the elimination of the so-called blanket approval, which allows multinationals to avoid filing individual applications for each employee seeking an L-1. A competing Senate bill would be less restrictive and is aimed at weeding out abuses in the L-1 programme.
V R Mitchell Wexler of Hirson, Wexler, Perl & Stark, a California-based immigration law firm, says the proposed restrictions are misguided.
"These companies help the US economy and create jobs," says Wexler, whose firm has offices in the US and Toronto that handle visa and work permits for about 1,500 companies.
"If we make it too tough," he said, "they would go to Canada or Mexico and use them as launching pads for their North American operations."
While most of the debate around H-1B visas has revolved around technology use, some immigration attorneys say the biggest impact of the lowered cap may be felt in other fields, such as health care and teaching.
The number of H-1Bs issued to doctors, nurses and teachers rose in 2002. Together, these groups received more than 20 per cent of all H-1B visas.
Hit by the current economic downturn, companies have started hiring fewer H-1B visa-holders.
Cisco, for instance, sponsored 791 H-1B visas in 2001. Last year, it sponsored 11. So far this year, it has sponsored only five.Still, a spokesman of Intel Corp calls the 65,000 cap for H-1Bs insufficient, particularly if demand for tech goods and tech workers rebounds. Intel and others say that the practical limit on H-1B visas will actually be lower than 65,000.