The US Chamber of Commerce has pleaded that the cap of 195,000 H1-B visas allocated for fiscal year 2003 be retained to help maintain America's global competitiveness.
It said this at a hearing held before the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee to examine the importance of H1-B visas to the American economy.
The cap on H1-B visas is set to decline to 65,000 from October 1, 2003. India sends the largest number of H1-B visa holders to the US.
"Through the US Chamber of Commerce and in coalition with businesses and trade associations across the spectrum, we seek a reasonable, market driven H1-B policy that recognises market realities," said Elizabeth Dickson, who testified on behalf of the US Chamber of Commerce.
The business body said the reorganisation of immigration services, the increased focus on national security and the impending reduction in the H1-B programme have generated concern in the business community.
Employers in the US currently need and will continue to need H1-B workers, it said.
"Immigration policies and procedures must be rationally based and include consideration for economic security and competitiveness," Dickson said.
Despite declining usage of the category (only approximately 79,000 visas were used in the last fiscal year), it remains important to allow the US to remain competitive in the battle for global talent, she asserted.
Dickson, who is the director of immigration services of the multinational Ingersoll-Rand Company, said an employer is also limited by an annual cap on the total number of new H1-B workers.
"It is unclear what, if any rationale, was used in developing this cap. What is clear is that the cap, when reached before the beginning of the new fiscal year, causes great economic hardship to US employers," she said, strongly pleading for retention of the higher figure.
She took the opportunity to debunk the theory that H1-B workers displace American workers and lower American workers' wages and working conditions in certain job sectors.
"It is hard to displace US workers when you don't have any US workers to choose from," she pointed out.
She also warned that if the Government refuses to recognise market needs and demands, the only alternative for American companies will be to move more of their operations offshore.
"In the near term, we simply must have access to foreign nationals. Many of them have been educated in the US. By sending them home, we are at best sending them to our own foreign plant sites, and at worst to our competitors."
Immigrants build wealth and create jobs for native-born Americans, she said quoting a recent report from the Immigration Policy Centre of the American Immigration Law Foundation to point out how foreign born individuals are 28 per cent of all PhDs in the US currently engaged in research and development in science and engineering.