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New York Business Group Seeks Fewer Restrictions on Foreign Worker Visas


New York City business leaders say the U.S. visa system has become so restrictive that the city is losing out to other cities in the search for global talent. The business group Partnership for New York City says security fears and the political debate over immigration have resulted in added restrictions on the number of visas available for skilled foreign workers. Nathan King has more.

New Yorkers like to say their city is the world's melting pot. But when it comes to attracting global talent to work here, New York business leaders say the Big Apple is losing its global standing.

They blame current U.S. immigration policy, especially the limited number of H-1B visas granted each year to companies that want to bring highly talented individuals to the U.S. to work.

This year, the government will grant 85,000 H-1B visas. The demand is so great that the full quota was filled on the first day applications opened, on 1 April.

In 2007, there were over 150,000 applications.

Kathryn Wylde heads a business leadership organization called Partnership for New York City. She says false perceptions cause the U.S. to lose out on potential global talent. "We are fighting on the visa issue a myth that somehow we have a domestic workforce that could fill the jobs by people coming in on H-1B or other professional visas," says Wylde. "That is just not true."

The partnership argues that global talent helps to open new markets abroad for New York companies, brings in high earners to live and spend money in the city and helps to create jobs for ordinary New Yorkers.

The New York region accounts for the largest number of H-1B visa applicants, and the business group wants Congress to increase the number to reflect market realities.

The campaign has the backing of such high profile companies as aluminum giant Alcoa, based here on Park Avenue. Alcoa spokesman Kevin Lowery says the company has lost talent to other cities due to the restrictions. "There's countless industries that have already done this where people are moving their people from the U.S. over to London," says Lowery. "Long term that is not sustainable."

There is powerful opposition to increasing immigration. The United States is in the midst of an economic slowdown with unemployment rising, and this is an election year.

Mark Krikorian is the head of the Center for Immigration Studies, an independent, non-profit research organization*. He says granting H-1B visas is a way to bring inexpensive labor into the United States. "H-1Bs [foreign workers] earn less and have lower levels of skills than comparable American workers in the same regions of the country," contends Krikorian, "so this is clearly without a doubt just a cheap labor visa."

New York business leaders reject that assertion and maintain that for every foreigner granted entry to the U.S. with an H-1B visa, five jobs are created for Americans. They say that while cities in Europe and Asia are increasing visas for global talent, New York should not be held back.

* corrected 30 April 2008, to fix spelling of name and identification of CIS, which was incorrectly identified as a lobbying organization

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