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The Trump administration’s new rules for a U.S. visa program widely used for technology workers are getting cautious praise from Silicon Valley amid surging demand for high-skill employees.
The H-1B visa program, which admits 85,000 foreign nationals each year, will give higher priority to people with postgraduate degrees from U.S. universities, under a final rule the Department of Homeland Security published in January.
“U.S. employers seeking to employ foreign workers with a U.S. master’s or higher degree will have a greater chance of selection in the H-1B lottery” under the new rule, said Francis Cissna, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, in announcing the change Jan. 30.
The changes come with the tech industry’s plea for more immigrants to fill key skilled positions, and respond in part to concerns that the program has been exploited by some tech giants and outsourcing firms to depress wages and displace U.S. employees.
“The changes are, on the whole, a positive step,” said Todd Schulte of the immigration reform group FWD.us backed by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and others in the industry.
Flaws in administration
Ed Black of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which represents several major tech firms, said the program has not always been administered as well as it could have been.
“We are hopeful something in the newly announced revisions will improve efficiency, but it’s too soon to say what the impact will be,” Black said.
The H-1B program, in place since 1990, has been used for a variety of skilled occupations including nurses and pastry chefs, but in recent years two-thirds have been for computer-related jobs and three-fourths of the employees have come from India. Because visa holders can stay up to six years, the number currently living in the United States is estimated at more than half a million.
Ron Hira, a Howard University political scientist who has followed the visa program for two decades, said it has been exploited by some large tech companies and outsourcing firms to keep wages down and in some cases displace American employees.
Hira said the visas have not been allocated to the “most pressing needs” of the labor market and that “the typical H-1B employee is working in a back office through an outsourcer.”
He said that the reform “inches us a little closer to a better-quality pool, but it’s still not selecting the ‘best and brightest’ — you could reform it much better.”
Hira said the system has been disappointing up to now because of large outsourcing firms that flood the system with thousands of applications, and some Silicon valley firms that use it to keep wages down.
A U.S. Labor Department complaint alleged that Oracle discriminated against some Americans by bringing in large numbers of H-1B visa holders, who were paid less than U.S. nationals.
The new DHS rule reverses the order of two lotteries for H-1B visas, by selecting the first 65,000 from the pool of all applications, and subsequently choosing 20,000 with advanced degrees.
Officials expect this will mean an increase of 5,000, or 16 percent, for holders of advanced degrees.
Hira said this potentially changes the mix of visa holders to positions with higher pay and skill levels.
‘Modest’ but positive shift seen
William Kerr, a Harvard University professor who heads the university’s Future of Work initiative, agreed the changes could slightly shift the mix of those receiving H-1B visas to bring in more people with advanced skills.
“It’s a modest change in a system in a need of substantial reworking, but I support the change,” he said.
Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank focused on the sector, said the changes should be viewed in the context of Trump administration rhetoric about shutting out foreigners and hiring more Americans.
“People were talking about shutting down this program and making it hard for companies to use [visa holders] at all, so it could have been a lot worse,” Atkinson said.
The reform is a “reasonable compromise,” Atkinson said.
The change, he said, “sends a nice message to foreigners who have been dropping their enrollment in U.S. universities and who were feeling uncertainty about what Trump was going to do.” (VOA)
The US researchers have discovered a class of immune cells that plays a role in miscarriage, which affects about a quarter of pregnancies.
Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco found that the recently discovered subset of cells known as extrathymic Aire-expressing cells in the immune system may prevent the mother's immune system from attacking the placenta and fetus.
The researchers showed that pregnant mice who did not have this subset of cells were twice as likely to miscarry, and in many of these pregnancies fetal growth was severely restricted.
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"When you're pregnant, the immune system is seeing the placenta for the first time in decades -- not since the mother made a placenta when she herself was a fetus," said Eva Gillis-Buck, from UCSF.
"Our research suggests that this subset of immune cells is carrying out a sort of 'secondary education' -- sometimes many years after the better-known population of the educator cells have carried out the primary education in the thymus -- teaching T cells not to attack the fetus, the placenta and other tissues involved in pregnancy," she added. The findings are published in the journal Science Immunology.
The immune system has to be educated not to attack one's own tissues and organs to prevent autoimmune disease. But pregnancy presents a unique challenge since the fetus expresses proteins found in the placenta as well as proteins whose genetics are distinct from the mother.
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"It was a conceptual leap to link Aire-expressing cells, which are critical for preventing autoimmune disease, to pregnancy," said Tippi Mackenzie, Professor of Surgery at UCSF's Center for Maternal Foetal Precision Medicine.
In the thymus, Aire-expressing cells begin interacting with other immune cells very early in life to teach them what not to attack. The thymus begins to shrink and is nearly gone by adulthood, by which time most immune cells have been educated. But as the thymus shrinks, the population of eTACs in lymph nodes and the spleen expands, the researchers explained.
The study suggests a healthy pregnancy may depend on having these cells around, they added. (IANS/KB)
The tiny emojis being shared on billions of devices worldwide can play a major role in digital communication, with most people saying that emoji compels them to feel more empathy towards others, according to an Adobe report.
Adobe's global emoji study found that emoji even helps people overcome language barriers and form connections that would otherwise be difficult to do.
"We were surprised and delighted by the discoveries made in the survey, most notably how enthusiastic respondents were for emoji as a means to express themselves," the company said in a statement.
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Emojis sometimes get criticized for being overly saccharine, but this sweetness is key when it comes to diffusing some of the heaviness of online communication.
"Many of the emoji are focused on positive emotions, so it's easy to insert them into our conversations and lighten the mood," the Adobe study said.
It's not surprising that over half of those surveyed feel more comfortable using emojis than talking on the phone or in person.
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This applies to less intense situations too. Dating, for example, can be tricky — especially when it's online or via digital apps, as it often is now.
The study also found that emoji even helps people overcome language barriers and form connections that would otherwise be difficult to do.
In celebration of World Emoji Day on Saturday, Adobe's '2021 Global Emoji Trend Report' surveyed 7,000 people in the US, the UK, Germany, France, Japan, Australia, and South Korea. (IANS/KB)
Following the grand Richard Branson show where he carried Andhra Pradesh-born Sirisha Bandla and fellow space travelers on his shoulders after successfully flying to the edge of space, it is time for Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos to applaud Sanjal Gavande, one of the key engineers who designed the New Shephard rocket set to take Bezos and the crew to space on July 20.
Billionaire Bezos is set to fly to the edge of space aboard what is touted as the world's first unpiloted suborbital flight. Born in Kalyan, Maharashtra, Gavande is a systems engineer at Blue Origin who always dreamt of designing aerospace rockets.
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After completing Bachelor's in mechanical engineering from the University of Mumbai, she flew to the US in 2011 to pursue a Master's in mechanical engineering from the Michigan Technological University. She also applied for an engineering job at the US space agency NASA but finally landed her dream job at Blue Origin
Sirisha flew to the US in 2011 to pursue a Master's in mechanical engineering from the Michigan Technological University.IANS
Bezos, his brother Mark, aviation pioneer Mary Wallace 'Wally' Funk, and other passengers are set to liftoff from west Texas and travel just beyond the edge of space on July 20. Blue Origin announced this week that Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old high school graduate from the Netherlands, would join the crew.
Oliver is the son of millionaire Joe Daemen, Founder, and CEO of the Dutch investment company Somerset Capital Partners. Blue Origin, however, did not reveal how much Daemen paid for his son's trip to space. Bezos chose July 20 as the launch date to honor the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
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The launch site for Blue Origin's first human flight will be in a remote location north of Van Horn, Texas, from where the firm had launched New Shepard for previous flights. Blue Origin has received final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to carry humans on the New Shepard rocket into space.
On July 12, Bandla touched the edge of space with three others, including Virgin Galactic's billionaire CEO Richard Branson. Bandla vaulted into space onboard VSS Unity 22. After the successful spaceflight, Branson carried the Indian-American on his shoulders while celebrating their flight to space, at Spaceport America in New Mexico. (IANS/KB)