Wanted: More US H-1Bs and longer work permission for students

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Bill Gates recently made an impassioned plea to the United States Congress to increase the H-1B cap, stating that it was in America's best interests to import badly needed talent to help the country stay ahead in the global market. Now database software giant Oracle is also making its case for more highly skilled H-1B workers. In addition, supporters of the H-1B program want the government to give foreign students more time under an official program which allows them to work while studying.

Oracle's Vice President of Congressional and Legislative Affairs, Robert Hoffman, believes that the 65,000 H-1B visas, up for grabs starting on 01 April 2008 for the current US fiscal year, will quickly run out as companies race to enter petitions for foreign workers they wish to bring to the US. His prediction is almost certain to come true -- last year, the allotted 65,000 visas were snatched up in one day.

Like other representatives of tech giants such as Microsoft and Google, Hoffman hopes that Congress will double the current cap. While critics feel that these companies only want cheap labor, research has shown that companies taking advantage of the H-1B program may actually benefit the American labor market.

A recent study found that companies who hire H-1B workers create more jobs. By bringing on highly skilled workers from abroad, other jobs are created as a result that are often taken up by local workers, lending less weight to the myth that H-1B visas steal American jobs.

Meanwhile, H-1B visa supporters are requesting that the Bush administration extend the time that foreign students studying at US educational institutions can work in the United States under the Optional Practical Training program. They hope to prolong the period from 12 months to 29 months.

Proponents of the changes feel that extending the program will give foreign students a better chance at obtaining an H-1B visa in the future. It's also a good stop-gap measure for the H-1B quota problem because it does not require a change in law to implement -- only a directive from the Department of Homeland Security.

While the US Congress remains somewhat wary of liberalizing the H-1B program, the three top contenders for Bush's job all agree that the US should have an easier time bringing over highly skilled foreign talent, either by increasing the H-1B quota or implementing a more permanent skilled worker immigration policy.