I received a phone call recently from one of my clients in Columbus Ohio who was exited about Obama’s choice for DHS Secretary. Its true President-Elect Barack Obama’s choice for Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, is a strong advocate of increasing the number of H-1B visas available. Although she cannot raise the H-1B cap herself, Ms. Napolitano’s appointment to the post would give her some ability to streamline the H-1B process through changes in regulations and would give her position on H-1Bs significantly more weight. Obama’s decision to nominate Ms. Napolitano demonstrates his understanding that current H-1B policies–and immigration policies in general–are inadequate and reform is needed.
Ms. Napolitano sent a letter in September of 2007, along with 11 other governors, to congressional leaders urging an increase in the H-1B cap. The letter stated that the nation is facing a “critical shortage of highly skilled professionals in math and science to fill current needs.” It then warned that “until we are able to address this workforce shortage, we must recognize that foreign talent has a role to play in our ability to keep companies located in our state and country; and therefore need to ensure the increased availability of temporary H1-B visas, and permanent resident visas (green cards).” Opponents of increases in H-1B visas claim that such a change is unnecessary and even hurtful to U.S. workers. They say IT companies only use the H-1B visa as a way to hire cheaper and younger labor. I disagree.
Currently, the base cap set by congress on H-1B visas is 65,000. There are exemptions from the cap for certain people, such as those who are renewing their visas, those who work at universities and some research institutions, and up to 20,000 of those holding a master’s or higher degree from U.S. universities. Legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate in April of 2008 would have increased the cap from 65,000 to 115,000 for fiscal years 2009 through 2011, and increased the exemption for possessors of U.S. master’s degrees and higher to from 20,000 to 30,000. It remains to be seen how the new Administration and Congress will work together to effect long-awaited change in immigration policies.