Some politians in the United States are keen to see an increase in the number of temporary visas granted for skilled technical workers but the forthcoming election could thwart their attempt.
Senator John Cornyn, the senior Republican on a panel that oversees immigration, has introduced a bill that would make an additional 55,000 visas available each year for graduates with master’s and doctoral degrees who have studied at US research institutions.
It is one of several immigration related bills that are around but with focus on the election later this year there does not seem to be enough momentum to push them through.
Cornyn said that an increase in visas for engineers, mathematicians, scientists and other with high tech skills would be important to US technology companies that want to improve access to an international pool of workers and stem the shortage of such talent in the country. It is estimated that the US currently has some two million unfilled high tech jobs.
He believes that it would not add to the overall number of US visas available as it would eliminate 55,000 so called ‘diversity visas’ for individuals from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.
Broad immigration reform is likely to be a hot topic in this year’s presidential campaign, especially after Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican challenger to President Barack Obama, took a tough anti-immigration stance during the primary campaign earlier this year.
Democrats generally have pushed for comprehensive immigration reforms, rather than focusing just on specific problem areas like highly skilled foreign born workers.
Cornyn’s proposal would add to the approximately 85,000 H-1B temporary visas currently available every year for foreigners with high tech training and would be aimed at graduates who have job offers in the United States in fields related to their studies.
Cornyn said his bill would ‘bolster American competitiveness and provide a stronger foundation for long term economic growth and job creation’.
He is backed by big business. Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney last week told a conference in Washington that the United States was losing critically needed engineers and others to competitor countries because they were being forced out after obtaining advanced degrees at US universities.
‘We have to remember how this country was built. All of us are sons and daughters of immigrants that showed up here and made our way. We’ve cut off that flow,’ he said.
However, the Democrats hold a majority in the Senate and are unlikely to back Cornyn’s legislation in its current form. A Senate Democratic aide said Democrats prefer to address the high tech visa question in the larger context of immigration reform.