Washington: As IT companies in India and the US started filling petitions for the most coveted H-1B work visas, software giant Microsoft has stressed on importance of the visa in retaining America’s competitiveness and urged the US Senate to pass a bill pending before it in this regard.
    
"While the vast majority of our US workforce is comprised of US workers, the individuals we employ in H-1B status—educated at some of the best universities in the US and around the world—are crucial to our business," said Brad Smith, general counsel & executive vice president, Legal & Corporate Affairs, Microsoft.
    
On Monday, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began receiving petitions for the H-1B visas for the fiscal 2013 beginning October, 2012.
    
The congressionally mandated numerical limitation on H-1B petitions for the fiscal year 2013 is 65,000, as has been in the previous years.
    
Additionally, the first 20,000 H-1B petitions filed on behalf of individuals who have earned a US master’s degree or higher are exempt from the fiscal year cap.
    
Smith has predicted that the numerical limitation for H-1B could be filled up very soon than previous years.
    
"Even with our economy in the midst of a prolonged recovery, the annual allotment of H-1B visas is projected to be exhausted earlier than last year, and well before the end of the government’s fiscal year.
    
"This isn’t surprising, with the unemployment rate in the technology sector below 4 percent," he wrote on a Microsoft post.
    
Smith said, "Our economy is hungry for workers with strong educational backgrounds, especially those with degrees in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
    
"We must continue to improve educational and professional opportunities for American workers, while keeping the door open to highly skilled talent from around the world to support the needs of US businesses."
    
Anu Peshawaria, a California-based attorney at law, said while there are no indications that the filings this year will resemble fiscal 2009 – the last time when the cap was reached in the initial filing period -- it is important to be aware that, as the economy is slowly recovering there has been an increase in H1B demand.

"Indian students’ (number) in the US is growing, recording an increase of 30 percent more than last year.
    
"However, unless we reduce the waiting period for visa seekers, particularly students and cut down on the backlog we will continue to loose trained employees and US cannot make significant progress," Peshawaria said.
    
Referring to the huge Green Card backlog, especially that from China and India, the top Microsoft official said America’s country’s approach to high skilled immigration must do a better job of reducing these backlogs to enable US companies to retain this talent, and reap the economic benefits of their brainpower and contributions over the long term.
    
"There are important steps that Congress can take right now to accomplish this. The House passed the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act in November with overwhelming and rare bipartisan consensus, 389-15," Smith said.
    
He added, "The bill would replace the discriminatory 'per-country' limits on employment-based green cards with a merit-based, first-come-first-served system, but it has unfortunately stalled in the Senate.
    
"The Senate should act now and pass this important legislation. Congress should also pass legislation to help ensure that the US can retain top foreign students who complete their education at US universities, rather than driving them away after graduation to compete against us in other countries."


(Agencies)