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Leaders in Indiana’s bioscience industries are voicing support for a streamlining of visa processes for high-skilled workers. The proposed changes are part of the sweeping immigration bill that passed the U.S. Senate last week.
They have come at a time when Indiana is seeking to brand itself as an international center of cutting-edge bioscience.
Governor Mike Pence unveiled plans for a $25 million Indiana bio science institute last month. The H-1B visa, allows employers to temporarily hire foreign workers in highly specialized occupations.
Each year the number of visas that can be awarded is capped at 65,000. This year all the visas were gone within the first week of the filing period.
Michael O’ Connor, Eli Lilly & Co. director of state and government affairs, is responsible for overseeing the company’s immigrant visa petitions. He says that country’s visa system has been broken for 15 years. In Indiana, he says it is preventing the biosciences industry from producing the breakthroughs that and attract investments and create jobs.
“If the IU basketball team lost Cody Zeller for a 4 month period, it impacts that team.I know of multiple instances where we have lost team members who had to go home,” he says.
The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, and Germany have revamped their systems to make it easier to recruit and retain specialized foreign talent.
U.S. Senator Dan Coats (R-Indiana) voted for the immigration bill which he says supports streamlining high skilled visa programs to benefit Indiana biosciences. But he says there must be measures to certify positions are offered to Americans first.
“I am hoping we can strengthen our education system so that we can put out more and more American individuals that have those skills that are needed,” he says. “But right now to keep us competitive around the world, if we can’t fill that job with qualified Americans, a temporary visa to give somebody a year or two or three here to fill the gap I would support’.
The immigration bill would nearly double the number of H-1 B visas made available each year.