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US H-1B visas should not have limits: Bill Gates

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Limits on H-1B visas should be removed to allow more skilled foreign citizens to work at US companies if the US wants to remain a leader in technology, Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates said on 27 April.

Gates said Microsoft is having a hard time finding skilled workers within the United States, and the lack of H-1B visas for skilled workers is only making the situation worse.

But he reserved his sharpest criticism for the visa caps, which he called "almost a case of a centrally controlled economy."

"If the demand is there, why have the regulation at all?" he said.

Congress capped the number of non-immigrant visas for skilled professionals at 65,000 in 2004 and 2005 in an effort to increase border security and ensure more jobs for home-grown tech workers.

That is one-third of the 195,000 work visas issued annually during the high-tech boom years from 2001 to 2003.

The entire quota of H-1B visas was snapped up the first day of the fiscal year last October by U.S. employers anxious to recruit foreigners for jobs in medicine, engineering, education, research and programming, among other fields.

While increasing the number of H-1B visas is important, "we can't be so naive to believe that there is not a very serious border-security problem that we need to deal with," said California Republican Rep. David Dreier, who heads the House Rules Committee.

Undersecretary of Commerce Phil Bond, a top Bush administration technology official, pointed out that the unemployment rate for engineers is above the national average.

But Gates said his company was hiring at all levels, from recent college graduates to those with more advanced skills. "Anybody who's got a good computer-security education, they're not out there unemployed," he said. "We're just not seeing an available labor pool."