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Business Leaders Protest Limits on H-1B Visas for Skilled Workers

Wednesday, April 15, 2015   (0 Comments)
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Llamasoft a focus: Company must transfer workers overseas

From Crain's Detroit Business
By Tom Henderson

Area business leaders gathered at the downtown Ann Arbor headquarters of LLamasoft Inc., a fast-growing developer of supply chain and logistical software, to protest current U.S. policies regarding skilled foreign labor.

Attending were representatives of Ann Arbor Spark, MichBio, the Detroit Regional Chamber, Global Detroit and the Michigan Office for New Americans, a state agency created by Gov. Rick Snyder in January.

The federal government on Tuesday closed its application period for H-1B visas, which allow skilled foreign workers to remain in the U.S. This year’s application total isn’t available yet, but officials said they received more applications than the 65,000 visas available.

The limit was reduced from 195,000 to 65,000 in 2004. Applications have exceeded the number of H1B visas available every year since then.

Last year, the government received 172,500 applications within five days of opening its application period.

The event took place at LLamasoft because it is an example of a local company with employees who will now enter a lottery to see who gets visas and who has to leave the country.

“This is a stupid policy. It’s insane,” said Don Hicks, LLamasoft president and CEO.

Hicks said the shortsightedness of the H-1B policy was evident last year when one of his top software architects, a Turkish national named Yasin Unlu, was forced to leave the country.

Hicks said he recruited Unlu after he finished graduate studies at the University of Arkansas. He spent two years as the lead designer for a software algorithm for what Hicks describes as inventory optimization, being able to stay here on a different two-year visa generally available to students after they finish their graduate studies.

But Unlu didn’t get an H-1B visa last year. Luckily for him, LLamasoft has an office in London and transferred him there.

“So now we pay her majesty for his services. We pay his taxes to the British government instead of to the U.S. government,” said Hicks.

He said he had one other employee last year who didn’t get a visa, but she was already engaged and moved up the date of her wedding so she could stay here legally. “I’m embarrassed my government forces people to change their marriage plans so they can keep their jobs,” he said.

Steve Tobocman, director of Global Detroit, a regional development agency, provided some statistics for those attending the meeting. For example:

  • The Detroit metropolitan statistical area is ninth in the U.S. based on the percentage of H-1B visas to total workforce, at 3.96 percent; Ann Arbor is 10th in the nation, at 3.7 percent.
  • Immigrants make up 6 percent of Michigan's population, but they make up 21 percent of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workers in the state, according to Tobocman.
  • Each foreign STEM worker who is hired results in 2.6 more jobs for native-born STEM workers.
  • 74 percent of the patents filed by the University of Michigan include at least one foreign inventor.

Phil Santer, vice president of business development for Ann Arbor Spark, said it makes no sense to educate foreign students in the United States, then send them home to compete against American companies when American companies want to hire them and can’t find similarly skilled workers in their place.

“This is the No. 1 issue were hear about from companies that’s inhibiting their growth," he said. "How can we get enough skilled workers?”

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