Thursday, May 10, 2007

No more seats on the magic carpet

The Magic Carpet that flies most of the skilled professionals from India (and other countries) to the USA is the H-1B visa. This visa category, however, is subject to an annual limit (65,000 at present). In respect of 2008, the limit for 2008 H-1B visa petitions was exceeded in a single day - in fact 150,000 applications had been received by mid-afternoon of the first day on which applications were processed !

Applications for H-1B visas are filed by the prospective employer, not the individual. The situation underscores the fact that U.S. demand for foreign scientists, engineers, computer programmers and other technicians continues to grow rapidly. For example, fully a third of Microsoft's U.S. based employees are foreign citizens. A spokesperson for Microsoft has gone on record as stating that .."We are trying to work with Congress to get the cap increased . Our real preference here is that there not be a cap at all."

Intel, Oracle and other corporations have also voiced their opposition to the visa limits. Robert Hoffman, an Oracle vice president, says .."..Our broken visa policies for highly educated foreign professionals are not only counterproductive, they are anticompetitive and detrimental to America's long-term economic competitiveness."

However, the reality is that these limits will probably not be increased any time soon, while the Great Immigration Debate rages on through the United States as part of the 2008 election campaigns. Lobbying groups for the protection of domestic personnel are vociferously promoting the case that increasing the visa limit will bring down wages in the technical sector and discourage American youngsters from pursuing technical careers.

Since the needs of Microsoft, Oracle and Intel and other companies (not just in the US but in the developed economies of Europe) will presumably have to be met, the portent for the future will surely be an outsourcing bonanza. If the bodies can't be imported, the functions will need to be exported.

The benefits will go beyond India, where there are signs that the supply of technical skills is already beginning to fall short of demand. A technical outsourcing boom is quietly taking place in Bangladesh, for example. The Danish Government, among others, has been investing substantial amounts of financial aid to develop the technical education facilities in Bangladesh, hoping no doubt to corner a significant percentage of that country's skills for Danish companies.
It appears the Magic Carpet will be flying Round Trips soon, not just one way.

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