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The US IT industry has succeeded in convincing the US government to grant more temporary H-1B visas to overcome the severe shortage of what are nowadays described as engineers. Bill Gates, Andy Grove and others had been prominent in campaigning for the measure. Late yesterday, agreement was reached that the present limit of 65,000 visas per year would be increased to 115,000 for the next two fiscal years (which begin in October), and then fall to 107,500 in FY 2001 and back to 65,000 in FY 2002. In the current fiscal year, the 65,000 limit was reached in May. The Senate had approved the measure in May, but democrats in the House had expressed concern about the protection of American workers, and the White House threatened a veto. Only companies with more than 15 per cent of H-1B visa holders will need to show that they have tried to recruit qualified Americans. There will be a fee of $500 per visa, to be used for training and scholarship programmes for American citizens. An increasing problem is that many new American recruits wish to become instant executives with generous stock options and golden hellos, without spending any time in programming or product development. This in large measure accounts for the present shortage of staff -- a lack of willingness to undertake hard work. The visa approach is regarded as the least-cost way of increasing the workforce, and although such workers are supposed to receive comparable salaries to American native workers, in practice this is often not the case. Other approaches to staff shortages have included setting up research centres outside the US, as IBM often has. Microsoft recently announced it would be setting up a centre in India (Malaysia had been hoping for this), as well as its small centre in Cambridge's silicon fen. It comes as a shock to some US companies that many Europeans are not prepared to live in the US. Temporary workers are often employed by agencies (and routinely fired and rehired) in order to avoid any obligation on the real employer having to provide corporate benefits. ® Click for more stories

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