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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Technology Companies Praise Work Plan for Immigrant Students

Story first appeared on USA Today

Tech companies are giving mixed reviews to a new proposal that would help advanced-degree students in tech fields stay and work in the U.S. after they complete school.

Technology companies are praising a congressional proposal to provide a path for permanent U.S. residency to immigrants who receive master's degrees or doctorates in technical fields, but they say it would only partly solve their recruiting problems.

Under a blueprint unveiled by a bipartisan group of senators, immigrants who receive master's degrees or doctorates in science, technology, engineering or math from an American university would be awarded a green card, or permanent residency.

Currently, the U.S. places a cap of 85,000 a year on the number of three-year H-1B visas it grants to immigrants with specialized skills.

Green cards are capped at 140,000 a year. And there are separate limits on the number of workers from each country who can get green cards.

The per-country caps hampers the large numbers of high-tech workers from China and India whose quotas are reached first, say executives of Intel and Facebook.

Intel Vice President Peter Cleveland says green cards should be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

He says most of its new hires are foreign graduates of U.S. universities with advanced degrees. He called the Senate proposal "a very positive sign."

But he said the company already has "2,300 employees in a green card lines" who graduated in previous years and would not be affected by the more lenient stance. Employees who don't have their green cards can't be promoted and are constrained from moving to other companies.

"It's good for new graduates but (doesn't help) existing green card holders," he says.

Facebook officials say the proposal would help, but many of its new hires are from foreign universities who would not be affected.

In late 2011, the company was forced to open a new office in Dublin to accommodate nearly 80 new staffers from countries such as China, India and Singapore, says Joel Kaplan, the company's vice president of public policy.

That deprives the U.S. economy of a larger work force, disrupts the closely-knit teams that Facebook fosters and adds a major operating expense.

Even tech start-ups gave the proposal mixed reviews.

Elizabeth Stanton, founder of an online learning start-up in Palo Alto, Calif., says she has been unable to hire a 19-year-old computer science student from India under the H-1B visa program.

Criteria for qualifying for the visa should be loosened, she says.