C-rappy Cacophony

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Most H-1B seekers lack grad degrees

Most H-1B seekers lack grad degrees

Most H-1B seekers lack grad degrees

Tom Abate, Chronicle Staff Writer

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

As immigration officials try to dig out from a crush of applications for temporary work permits, new government figures show that 9 out of 10 new applications for these controversial H-1B visas are for workers with bachelor's degrees rather than advanced credentials.

The H-1B program lets companies hire foreign workers for three years, with the option for extending employment another three years. To be eligible, foreign workers must hold a bachelor's degree or the equivalent in experience.

The first day to file applications was April 2, and by the next day immigration officials had gotten so many requests they stopped accepting new ones and went to work winnowing the pile.

The program has been controversial for years. Employers say they can't recruit the best and the brightest in the world and want Congress to raise the annual quota on H-1B visas -- now 65,000 -- or lift it. Critics, mainly computer programmers, say the fact that 9 out of 10 applicants don't have an advanced degree shows that industry's motives are driven by bucks, not brains.

On Tuesday, officials of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said they had identified 12,989 visa requests that could be processed immediately because they cover applicants with master's degrees or higher credentials.

The law exempts the first 20,000 foreign applicants with such credentials from the cap of 65,000 that covers the general program. So it is virtually certain that visas will be granted for all 12,989 applications received thus far for these master's degree or higher candidates -- with 7,000 similar slots still available.

But 119,193 other requests remain in limbo as U.S. officials prepare to hold a lottery to pick an additional 65,000 recipients.

It could be a few weeks before immigration officials complete a lottery to select the remaining H1-B visa winners from the applications received on behalf of foreigner workers with bachelor's degrees or equivalent experience.

H-1B critic Kim Berry, president of the Programmer's Guild, said the 1-to-10 ratio of master's to bachelor's candidates contradicts the argument that the program is intended for the most highly skilled workers. He said immigration officials should hand out the remaining visas based on salary -- a proxy for skill -- rather than by chance.

Immigration spokeswoman Sharon Rummery said that by law the remaining visas must be issued on a first-come, first-served basis. "As far as we're concerned, they're all equally qualified," she said.

Jeff Lande, spokesman for the Information Technology Association of America, argued that the crush of applications makes the case for a higher H-1B quota. Reacting to Berry's comment about the number of applicants with bachelors degrees, Lande said critical skills vary from job to job, adding that Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates didn't finish college but would certainly qualify as one of the world's "best and brightest."

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