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Obama to Streamline H-2B Visa Process

September 06, 2008


Driving home the point that he is for creating jobs in the US, Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama has favored streamlining the process for the high-skilled H-2B visas for Indians and other foreigners to make sure that employer were not "gaming" the system.


"For those who don't know, the H-2B visa Programme is the Programme whereby people with specialized skills, foreign nationals with specialized skills, are supposed to be able to come in and be sponsored by their employer. That's the idea," he said at a campaign event in Duryea, Pennsylvania on Friday.


Noting that there are some "highly specialized" areas meant to be covered under it, the Illinois Senator said: "Let's say, you know, you need a nuclear physicist in a particular area, and you just can't find one. And it turns out there's a guy who is Indian, who fits the bill. And you've gone out and you've tried to recruit people. ... And your business needs this. That's what the H-2B visa is supposed to be for."


However, he said, the "problem" is that if employers want "to game the system, they might decide... We'll get a software engineer from India, even though there are a bunch of software engineers here... because we can pay him or her less. And that then undercuts the labor market and wages" in the US.


Obama's remarks were actually in an obvious reference to the H-1B visa category in which software engineers would fit into. It is unclear whether the Senator had inadvertently strayed into the realm of H-1B visas in the course of making his thoughts on the issue known, but he made it clear he will ensure that the high skilled visas will not be manipulated.


He was asked to comment on reports that businesses are pressuring the Bush administration to change the ways about determining the employment status where businesses would grant H-2B status instead of having a state agency ascertain if there is a need.


The H-2B visa category allows US employers in industries with peak load, seasonal or intermittent needs to augment their existing labor force with temporary workers. Typically, H-2B workers fill labor needs in occupational areas such as construction, health care, landscaping, manufacturing, food service and processing and resort and hospitality services.


"... I want to return it (H-2B) to its purpose, which is to make sure that it is only for these very specialized jobs where there is a shortage" in the United States, Obama said.


He said it is also important to remember the fact that US really had a "shortage" of PhDs, scientists and engineers.


“We really do have a shortage of certain key occupations that, if we want to continue to grow, we've got to develop our kids here,” Obama continued, “still perhaps having in mind the H-1B visa that covers architects, engineers, computer experts, accountants, doctors and college professors”.


"We've got to make sure that they are being pushed into the high-skill, high-wage jobs of the future. And that's got to be a group effort. The government can do some things. Paying teachers more, giving them more support, making sure that they're certified in the subjects that they teach, making college more affordable. Those are all critical areas."


Obama said the US has a "continual" nursing shortage, "not because there aren't people here who could be great nurses. The problem is we pay our nurse educators so little, that there aren't enough slots to train the nurses that we need. And nursing -- working conditions for nurses aren't good enough to attract enough people into the profession.


"So we end up bringing thousands of nurses from other countries, which by the way those countries themselves need nurses. So they really need to be nursing back home. But the problem is we're just not providing the incentives that are going to create more nurses," the Democrat said.


"I want to start creating jobs here in the United States. That's going to be my central focus when I'm President of the United States," he said.




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