Lack of H-1B visa workers will hit race to build self-driving vehicles, says director at Center for Automotive Research

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NEW YORK: If the H-1B visa is reformed and it curbs the entry of high skilled workers into the United States, then the race to build self-driving vehicles would slow down, according to Richard Wallace, director of the Transportation Systems Analysis group at the Center for Automotive Research, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The H-1B visa at present allows for 85,000 foreigners annually to work in the US, out of which 20,000 H-12B visas are reserved for foreign students on F-1 visa, who graduate from American education institutions.

Several bills have been introduced in Congress, by US House of Representative members who want to reform the H-1B visa. A couple of the bills propose raising the salary for entry level workers from the present $60,000 to as high as $100,000-$130,000. The bills also call for more scrutiny when hiring and to place the onus on hiring American workers first. There’s fear that protectionism will end up in the US not getting the skilled workforce they rely upon from overseas.

Although tech giants such as Google and Microsoft use many H1-B visas, automakers have increasingly used them to address the shortage of engineers to work on autonomous vehicle programs, reported Automotive News.

“There’s not enough [engineers] to start with,” Wallace was quoted as saying. “The H1-B visa has been the primary pathway to finding this type of technical talent.”

As competition to introduce market-ready self-driving vehicles has grown over the past few years, universities have been slow to adapt to the increased demands for talent. Automakers are fighting fiercely over engineers skilled in robotics, artificial intelligence, machine vision and more, the report said.

Ford Motor Co. filed 194 preliminary applications for H1-B visas in 2016, up from six in 2012, according to public records released by the U.S. Department of Labor. General Motors filed 293 applications in 2016, up from 10 in 2012.

The H1-B program has been hit with accusations of abuse. During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump released a statement slamming some employers for using H1-B visas as a “cheap labor program” subject to “widespread, rampant” abuse. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has also sought to limit the program in the past. Last month, the Trump administration said officials had drafted an executive order aimed at overhauling the H1-B program.

 

“We don’t have time for this pipeline; the time is now,” said Wallace. “Where are we going to get this talent if it’s not outsourcing work to India, Bulgaria, Poland, Canada, and we’re not importing talent? We’re in some serious trouble. We’re really missing the global competition.”

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