AILA looks to ease limits on foreign workers

LOS ANGELES: The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has begun a media outreach effort to bring attention to the limit on visas allocated for highly educated foreign workers, which it claims could hurt the US economy if not addressed.

LOS ANGELES: The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has begun a media outreach effort to bring attention to the limit on visas allocated for highly educated foreign workers, which it claims could hurt the US economy if not addressed.

At issue are H-1B visas, given to workers with special skills or education. The government puts a yearly cap on the number of such visas available each fiscal year. This year, the cap is 65,000, but that figure was reached on the first day of the fiscal year, since companies are allowed to begin applying for visas in April.

AILA says that cap is too low and could impact the ability of US companies to find workers.

"People think it's just in hi-tech, but its in healthcare, biotech, and education," said Judith Golub, AILA's senior director of advocacy and public affairs.

In addition to an ongoing public affairs effort on Capitol Hill, AILA reached out to business press and other media. It is also working with its membership - which is more than 87,000 - to raise awareness.

The many titles that have written on the issue include the San Jose Mercury News, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Miami Herald, and the Financial Times.

The effort seeks to pass legislation that would grant an exemption to the cap for foreign students who graduate with master's degrees and PhDs from US universities. It also supports removing restrictions for foreign nationals employed by government in areas such as teaching.

"These are people with a lot of education who bring a lot of skills to our country," said Golub. "Our competitors around the world will snap them up" if visa rules are not changed, she said.

The issue remains controversial in an election year when outsourcing and a sluggish economy continue to make news. Golub said that a point AILA wants to make is that H-1B visas can actually help retain jobs in the US.

"If [employers] can't get [skilled labor] in, they'll ship that project overseas," she said.

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