Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Rush On For Visas For High Skilled Workers

American companies can bring high skilled foreign workers in temporarily to fill jobs for which there are -- supposedly -- no available American workers. They come in on H-1B visas for three years, renewable for another three years. American firms must apply for these visas this week and the rush is on. So many application were made last year, Citizenship and Immigration Service stopped accepting them after the first day. There are only 65.000 such visas, down from as many as 165,000 in the past. High tech companies complain there are not enough to fill needs and so jobs have to be sent overseas. (See NY Times article and similar item in the Chicago Tribune.)

H-1B visas are very complex realities and very controversial. Americans are said to be bad in math and sciences and so the country is short on engineers and computer experts. The education problem may be real, but many challenge the supposed shortage of competent workers here. Companies are not pressed to search for Americans to fill jobs before submitting an application for foreign workers. In fact, the three largest companies submitting them are Indian. There is also the issue of "creaming" poor countries' talent -- creating incentives for the educated to come temporarily to the U.S. with hope of permanent residency.

Another issue is how well are the temporary workers treated when they get here. CIS is not very good at sharing information with the Labor Department which has some responsibility in overseeing the H-1B program. There are many complaints that employers do not pay the prevailing wage as required by law, string workers along with promises of green cards, and the like.

Congress is looking into the abuses of the law and reform should be part of a comprehensive immigration reform package. The plight of the undocumented, the immigrant seeking to bring in family members, the temporary farm worker suffer even greater indignities from an immigration law and administration totally out of whack.

Many od the undocumented who die -- crossing the Arizona desert or in auto crashes on the way to Iowa -- carry no identification and so are buried anonymously. As the Associated Press story reports, they are know only by a number.

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