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H1-B visas: US Inc move may help India

By Parvathy Ullatil in Mumbai
June 28, 2004 09:17 IST
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A Congressman and over 200 multinational corporations, universities, research institutions and trade associations in the United States are trying to retain the foreign-born, American-educated graduate students in the country despite the restrictive H-1B visa caps.

Compete America, a coalition of over 200 companies, universities, research institutions and trade associations, has called on the US Congress to support a legislation to exempt foreign nationals with master and Ph.D. degrees from the US universities, from the current H-1B visa caps.

This has enormous implications for India as at present there are around 75,000 Indian students in the US with a majority of them enrolled for master or Ph.D degrees in different universities.

Kiran Karnik, president, Nasscom said: "The US government and companies collectively contribute billions of dollars to universities to support cutting edge research. Much of that work is done by graduate students, many of whom are foreign nationals. These foreign nationals, with a large percentage of them being Indians, add tremendous value to the US companies and the economy. They must have H-1B status to remain in the US."

Compete America is backing congressional bill -- HR 4166 -- proposed by Lamar Smith, a Republican Congressman from Texas, aimed at extending the H-1B visa cap by over 30 per cent.

This year the H-1B quota -- down to 65,000 visas from 1,95,000 in 2003 -- was exhausted on February 17. This is the fifth time since 1997 that the caps have been reached before the end of the year.

While up to 50 per cent of the master and Ph.D. degrees granted in disciplines such as physical sciences are given to foreign students, this figure goes up to 90 per cent in some other disciplines.

The coalition includes MNCs which have a major presence in India such as Intel, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, AMD, Agilent Technologies, Cisco, Motorola, ABB, Goodyear Tire and Rubber, DuPont etc.

It also has on board associations and bodies such as the US Chamber of Commerce, Information Technology Association of America, Society for Human Resource Management, Software & Information Industry Association and HR Policy Association.

In its letter to the Congress, Compete America has argued to retain the foreign nationals educated in America on the grounds that the companies are facing "difficult challenges in getting the right talent for key professional positions."

The letter also says that it does not make sense to send back a large percentage of foreign-born graduate students who benefit greatly from the US education and, often, from research grants funded by the US taxpayers.

Sending these people back because of a shortfall in visas also means that the country gets no payback from investment on them and, worse, it forces a foreign-born student to seek employment in a foreign country, often competing against the US firms, reasons the coalition.

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