Monday, April 21, 2008

H1B Visa for Software Developers

Last Friday the House Republican Study Committee sent a letter to Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, the Speaker of the House and Majority Leader, respectively, requesting an increase in the current H1B visa quota of 65,000 per year to 115,000. They also request a 20% yearly increase in the cap every year, assuming the previous year’s quota was met. The letter is embedded below.

The current H1B program, which allows companies to bring highly skilled foreign software developers to the U.S. for up to three years. It is a primary way for Silicon Valley firms to get enough technical employees and software developers, and there is almost always demand far outstripping the artificial quotas. The 1999 and 2000 quotas were already at 115,000. 132,000 H1B visas were approved in 2004 and 117,000 in 2005. But the cap was lowered again, and the 2007 quota was reached in just two months. The 2008 quota was exhausted before the end of the first day on which applications were accepted, April 2, 2008.

The letter discusses the absurd situation where U.S.-educated foreigners are unable to work here after graduation: “As a country, we are effectively handing these highly-educated, extremely desirable individuals a diploma and a plane ticket. The message we are sending is “You can learn here, but you have to work in another country.”"

The letter also mentions that Microsoft opened a facility in Vancouver, Canada in 2007 exclusively to put to work foreign-born employees that could not obtain work visas. These employees would otherwise be working in Washington.

Intel Chairman Craig Barrett, which has 2,000 employees with H1B visas, is quoted in the letter: “With Congress gridlocked on immigration, it’s clear that the next Silicon Valley will not be in the United States.”

As I’ve written before, it would be really super nice if Congress could just sort of get out of the way and quit screwing around with Silicon Valley - one of the most important economic assets in the United States. I hope this letter and associated Bill - HR 1930 - is acted on (you can give your direct feedback on the Bill at that link).

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