Monday, October 1, 2012

Hike new US H1B visa fee to $10K, Green card to $15K: Microsoft
In a proposal that will hit Indian IT companies the most, US software giant Microsoft Corporation has suggested a whopping fee of USD 10,000 (over Rs 5 lakh) for a new category of H-1B visas and USD 15,000 (more than Rs 7.5 lakh) for permanent residency or Green card.
This could raise a huge USD5 billion over a decade, it said.Both the new categories of H-1B and Green cards, according to the Microsoft plan, would have an annual capacity of 20,000 and would be restricted to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
The money thus raised, according to the US company, would be used for the STEM education programs.Given that Indian techies grab the maximum number of H-1B visas, such a proposal if accepted by the Congress would hit the Indian IT companies the most.
Such a proposal from Microsoft comes at a time when the visiting External Affairs Minister, S M Krishna, is expected to raise the issue of increase in H-1B visas last year in his meeting with the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in New York early this week.
The proposal was revealed at a Washington-based think-tank gathering last week by Brad Smith, general counsel & executive vice president, legal & corporate Affairs, of Microsoft.He said the money thus raised would be used to generate the necessary skilled manpower in the coming years.
Microsoft currently has an opening of 6,000 jobs in the country, of which more than 3,400 jobs are for researchers, developers and engineers.
“Too few American students – especially students who have historically been underserved and underrepresented – are achieving the levels of education required to secure jobs in innovation-based industries,” he said in his remarks to the Brookings Institute, an eminent American think tank.
“An effective national talent strategy therefore needs to combine long-term improvements in STEM education in the United States with targeted, short-term, high-skilled immigration reforms.
“If done right, the latter can help fund the former, and our white paper outlines specific recommendations,” he said.
Microsoft, he said, believes this initiative should include, among other things, funding for states to strengthen K-12 STEM education.
This is by providing additional resources to recruit and train STEM teachers, broaden access to computer science in high school and expand higher education capacity to produce more STEM degrees.
In his speech, Smith said Congress should create a new, supplemental category with 20,000 visas annually for STEM skills that are in short supply.
“In addition, Congress should take advantage of prior unused Green cards by making a supplemental allocation of 20,000 new Green card slots for workers with STEM skills, Smith said. Simultaneously, Microsoft released”a National Talent Strategy policy paper with details of its proposals.
“To provide employers with immediate access to the highly talented STEM professionals that their businesses need, a new allocation of 20,000 H-1B visas for foreign nationals with a US bachelor’s degree or equivalent foreign degree in a STEM discipline should be established,” said the 32-page policy paper.
To qualify for these visas, it said, employers would be required to make an investment of USD 10,000 toward the development of future American STEM workers for each visa sought from the new allocation.
According to the policy paper, Microsoft conceded, this proposal will not solve the broad shortage of H-1B visas overall, given the stark disparity between the current supply of H-1B visas and the demand for skilled workers – particularly during periods of economic growth.
“But it will make an appreciable impact in addressing the talent crisis many businesses face today due to the shortage of high skilled STEM workers,” it said.
“In addition to improving the ability of private-sector employers to meet their STEM-based workforce needs, full utilisation of this new allocation of visas would generate USD 200 million in investments for the American STEM pipeline annually.
“The incentive of immediate visa availability for STEM professionals would also connect participating employers’ staffing strategies today directly to the effort to rebuild the American STEM pipeline for tomorrow,” it added.
Microsoft s recommends recapturing 20,000 unused employment based Green card numbers annually to reduce the Green card backlog and generate up to USD300 million per annum for new investments in the American STEM pipeline.
This would help address the backlog and enable employers to retain targeted high-skilled foreign workers and attract the best and brightest from around the world.
“To qualify for these Green card numbers, employers would invest USD 15,000 for the development of future American STEM workers for each Green card number made available through recapture”, the policy paper said.
The Green card numbers should be assignable only to employees who already have an approved PERM labor certification and/ or I-140 immigrant visa petition, making them eligible for immediate processing of their Green card applications, it said.
“Based on our own analysis, we believe that it would be fair and feasible to require an investment of USD 10,000 for each of these new STEM visas and USD 15,000 for each of these new STEM Green cards.
“This would raise up to USD 500 million per year – or USD 5 billion over a decade – that the federal government could use to distribute to the states where STEM education investments are needed, ‘ Microsoft said.

- Umesh Shanmugam

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