Small businesses fight for visas for foreign workers

June 8, 2011 1:19:55 AM PDT
Visas for foreign workers are under attack again, but not because they hurt American job seekers. These new complaints are coming from small business owners.

You can find holders of H-1B visas in many types of businesses. Vittal Shetty is one of them, he is the corporate chef for the Amber Indian Restaurant Group. They're also common at high tech companies across Silicon Valley. However, immigration lawyers gathered in Milpitas with a new concern.

"Every day I get calls from Stanford MBAs, Berkeley MBAs, and they want to start businesses here, but unfortunately because they're from other countries, we don't have the possibility to keep them here," said immigration attorney Stephanie Smith.

That's because a would-be, foreign-born entrepreneur has to have a boss to be a visa sponsor. Those who run staffing services to arrange for H-1B visas say the process has become slow and bureaucratic. And companies say they are hard-pressed to find skilled workers when big companies, such as Google, are snapping up thousands of them.

"The skills are so specific and they're not so available in the market readily. You have to have people with a computer science background or an engineering background," said Tanya Taneja from Akraya Staffing Solutions.

Congressman Mike Honda listened to the complaints from immigration attorneys and small business owners. So did Winslow Sargeant, Ph.D., of the U.S. Small Business Administration, who's trying to get inter-agency help to address the visa issues.

"We need to find more ways to keep the talent, but also to identify those who want to stay here, who want to help grow those companies," said Sargeant.

Unless that happens, it's likely they'll go home and compete against the U.S. instead.

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