Governors throw support behind H-1B increase

Thirteen state chiefs, many from tech-heavy locales, tell Congress there's a "critical shortage" in math and science professionals.

A congressional push this year for an increase in the H-1B visas coveted by Silicon Valley companies seemingly evaporated with the death of a contentious immigration bill. But 13 state governors say the politicians must revive that effort--and soon, please.

Claiming "a critical shortage of highly skilled professionals in math and science to fill current needs," the band of chief executives on Tuesday sent a letter urging U.S. Senate and House of Representatives leaders to forge ahead with upping the number of the temporary H-1B visas and permanent-resident green cards. Click here to view a copy (PDF).

The signatories represent a number of tech-industry-heavy states, including Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, Rick Perry of Texas, Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, Chris Gregoire of Washington and Eliot Spitzer of New York. The governors said they recognized there may not be time for comprehensive action on immigration laws during this session of Congress but said quick movement is needed on the skilled visa issue, as evidenced by the rapid speed by which this year's quota was met .

The H-1B program, created in 1990, allows foreigners with at least a bachelor's degree in their area of specialty to be employed in the United States for up to six years. There's currently an annual cap of 65,000 visas, at least on paper, with up to 20,000 extras available for foreigners who earn advanced degrees from U.S. universities. (Various exemptions bump the total allotment to just above 100,000.)

Although the visas are prized by Silicon Valley companies, the idea of allowing more of them has generated disdain from groups representing American tech workers. Several congressional proposals propose expanding the annual cap, but some politicians have voiced concern that the program is being abused in a way that replaces American workers or depresses their wages in comparable positions.

 

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