The influential US Chamber of Commerce has urged Congress to reform its visa programmes to bring the best and the brightest foreign workers and help corporate America retain its competitive edge.
Said to be the world's largest business federation, representing more than three million businesses, the chamber in a letter sent on Thursday to members of the House and the Senate reiterated the need to reform both the employment-based (EB or green card) and H-1B visa programmes for skilled workers.
The Chamber represents numerous companies and organisations that need to bring foreign workers and students into the United States each year, it said. "The inability of these companies to bring these highly educated workers and students into the United States severely hurts their competitiveness in the global market and often leads to companies moving operations overseas."
"Retaining the best and the brightest foreign workers helps make the US economy strong," it said, urging passage of a broad immigration reform package that would allow US employers "to recruit and retain highly educated foreign talent and guarantee our continued global economic competitiveness and success".
The announcement last week by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) about H-1B visa cap for the FY2008 being reached on the first day applications were accepted marks the dire need for changes in the system, the Chamber said.
This is also the fourth consecutive year the H-1B cap was met before the fiscal year even starts. USCIS will now conduct a "computer-generated random selection process" to determine which of these needed workers will be excluded, it noted.
Other areas of US immigration system for highly-skilled immigrants face similar daunting barriers-from years of waiting for a green card to the inability of hiring a student from a United States university as a permanent worker right after graduation, the Chamber said.
The current system is counterproductive to the country's economic, security, and social goals. Retaining the best and the brightest foreign workers help make US economy strong, it said.
These artificial barriers are forcing some companies to conduct business elsewhere, wherever they can hire the necessary talent, the Chamber said urging a reform package that would include:
* Raising the EB cap and exempting specific highly skilled professionals in sciences, arts, business, and other critical fields from the final allotted number.
* Allowing foreign students who have earned advanced degrees from American universities, as well as from foreign universities, in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to be exempt from both the EB and H-1B visa cap numbers.
* Designing the H-1B visa cap numbers around a market-based annual adjustment, rather than an arbitrary fixed number.
* The creation of an entire new visa category that would allow STEM students, studying in the United States on a student visa, to seamlessly transition to a green card when offered a job.
Meanwhile, USCIS has increased from May 16, 2007 filing time for two types of non-immigrant petitions giving employers and agents more time to bring foreign workers with extraordinary abilities to the United States from six months to one year in advance of an event.
The "O" non-immigrant visa is meant for persons with extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, education, business or athletics, or those persons with extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television production.
The "P" non-immigrant visa is for internationally recognised athletes or entertainers, and those who perform as artists or entertainers in culturally unique programmes.