Foreign IT workers are flooding into the US at an unprecedented rate, entering the country by means of the controversial H-1B temporary visa.
Late last year after months of intense debate, the US Government kowtowed to lobbying from Silicon Valley bosses and increased the H-1B allocation for fiscal 1999 to 115,000 from the 1998 level of 65,000.
According to government statistics, however, after only four months of the current fiscal year, 70,000 of those 115,000 visas have been issued.
H-1B visas enable US companies to hire skilled technical staff for up to six years that they cannot find in the domestic market. Vendors such as Intel and Hewlett Packard lobbied hard for the increase, while trade unions and organisations representing US hardware and software engineers unsuccessfully lobbied against.
The suppliers claimed they needed people with the latest skills from overseas universities, while organisations such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) claimed bosses simply wanted cheap foreign labour and did not want to hire high priced older Americans.
Joyce Fleming, a US immigration lawyer for Atlanta based labour and employment law firm, Ford & Harrison, said: "I see more British, Indian and Russian high tech workers using them [H-1B visas] these days."
But the US Government does not break down applications by country, so it is impossible to give an entirely accurate picture of where workers are from.
Fleming, however, is urging US companies that need foreign staff to apply quickly because she believes the remaining 45,000 visas will soon be gone. She also predicts that hi tech employers that rely on foreign employees are likely to be caught without a way to legally hire them by the summer.
But even with H-1B staff filling thousands of jobs, the US is still awash with "Situations Vacant" advertisements. The US Government Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there are 200,000 vacancies for software professionals alone and also projects that jobs for computer programmers will grow by 55 per cent by 2004.
Posts for systems analysts and computer scientists are likewise predicted to grow by 79 per cent during the same period.
One research company, CompTech, which continuously polls US employment trends across the IT, electronics and communications sectors, said that a survey this year of 586 software companies revealed that 57 per cent plan to expand their work force by an average of 25.4 per cent, creating a staggering 7,378 new jobs.
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