H-1B visa applications to be accepted from April 2: US

Washington: Applications for the most sought after H-1B work visa used extensively by Indian IT professionals for the fiscal beginning October 1, would be accepted beginning April 2, a federal immigration agency announced.

The congressionally mandated numerical limitation on H-1B petitions for the fiscal year 2012-13 is 65,000, as has been in the previous years.
Additionally, the first 20,000 H-1B petitions filed on behalf of individuals who have earned a US masters degree or higher are exempt from the fiscal year cap.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said H1B applications will be considered accepted on the date it takes possession of a properly filed petition with correct fee and not the date on which it was sent.

"If the number of applications received exceeds the numerical cap, USCIS will randomly select the number of petitions required to reach the numerical limit from the pool of petitions received on the final receipt date," USCIS said in a statement, adding that it will reject cap-subject petitions that are not selected, as well as those received after the final receipt date.

Petitions for new H-1B employment are exempt from the annual cap if the beneficiaries will work at institutions of higher education or related or affiliated non-profit entities, non-profit research organisations or governmental research organisations, USCIS said.

Bill in US Congress to issue visitor, business visa within 3-day

Washington: Several powerful US Senators have joined hands to introduce a legislation in the Senate on a comprehensive visa reform which, if enacted into law, would facilitate visitors and business visas within three days.

The bill also calls for setting up mobile visa units in cities with more than one million population that does not have a US diplomatic mission either Embassy and Consulate.

The Jobs Originated through Launching Travel (JOLT) Act aims at reforming outdated visa laws to cut through red tape that has caused a lag in foreign travel to the US. The act was sponsored and co-sponsored by Senators Barbara Mikulski, Charles Schumer, Mike Lee, Amy Klobuchar, Marco Rubio, Roy Blunt and Mark Kirk.

The Act, introduced in the Senate, requires the US Secretary of State to develop "premium processing" for B-1 and B-2 visas (tourist and business travel visas).

Under premium processing, unless compelling security concerns exist, a visa will be issued within three business days from the date it is requested.
This section also authorises the State Department to charge a fee sufficient to recover the costs of premium processing and to recover costs that will increase capacity to more quickly process B-1 and B-2 visas in India, China, and Brazil through the use of: (1) technology; and (2) creation of "mobile interview units" to process visa applications and to conduct visa interviews in cities of over 1,000,000 people with no US embassy or consulate.

This will ultimately lead to faster processing of all visa applications, the Act says. It also calls for issuing visas to Chinese nationals for longer duration.

Change in biotech curriculum at IIT - Madras (India)

With biotechnology being considered by most students merely as a launching pad for an IT career, educational institutes are now realising that they need to change this trend, and the Indian Institute of Technology - Madras has taken the lead.

The department of biotechnology has done away with their four-year B.Tech Biotechnology programme and their five-year dual degree. Instead, they are introducing two dual degrees, M.Tech in Biological Engineering and M.S. Biological Sciences.

Biotechnology is a research-intensive industry and also requires good experimental skills, which is usually obtained by working on long-duration projects and integrating a variety of experimental skills.

“Ph.D students have the research experience and well-developed lab skills, which the B.Tech. students lack,” says Prof. Guhan Jayaraman. If the students have to be hired for performing routine tasks, an M.Sc. Biotechnology student can do this as well as a B.Tech one (and at a lower salary), he notes.

To him, a chemical engineer would perform better than a B.Tech. Biotechnology student for routine process engineering type of jobs (since in-depth biology knowhow is not required and Biotech students have less chemical engineering expertise).

“A bioprocess engineer with a Ph.D degree has a tremendous advantage over chemical engineers and biologists when it comes to process research and development. Therefore, there is a huge demand for Ph.D-degree holders in bioprocess engineering,” says Mukesh Doble, head, Department of Biotechnology, IIT-M.

Apart from the above-mentioned biology courses, B.Tech Biotechnology programmes contain standard chemical engineering courses and some biochemical engineering courses. Read full article at The Hindu.

Job application vs. vacancy advertisement

Are you applying for a job, postdoc or grad opportunity? Whatever position you are applying for, it is very important that you should read the vacancy advertisement very carefully.

For example, thesciencejobs.com, a leading career site stands within top 10 science job searches in Google for most of the job related keywords found that most of the job seekers have a 'ready to paste' cover letter on their hand. Whatever the vacancy requirement, they just copy n paste the very same cover letter to every job application. This is totally wrong and will not help you to stands out from the crowd.

What we suggest is that

  • Read the vacancy advertisement carefully
  • Prepare your cover letter as per the requirement of the vacancy advert
  • Modify (slightly) the CV to suite to the requirement 
If you follow these suggestions, it is certain that your chance to grab a position will increase significantly.

The United States Unemployment Figures Released, 8.3%

The United States Bureau of Labor statistics released employment figures for February today, Friday. The report says that the number of employed has increased by 227k and that employment figure is now at 8.3%. A Gallup poll yesterday had predicted unemployment would rise to 9.1% today while mos t analysts agreed on a figure of 8.3%. The increase in employment has come with analysts suggesting the level to be anywhere between 175k and 250k. The consensus number seems to have been around 250k. The unemployment rate released for January was a lower than had been expected 8.3%

The figure follows a worse than expected initial claims report yesterday and a positive ADP report earlier in the week. Both of these reports are seen as good indicators for the employment level in the country and both are viewed as great predictors of this report. Employment levels and unemployment are used by investors as a proxy for economic stability and wellness. A lowering unemployment rate as we have seen in the last few months improves confidence in the economy, the market seeing signs of recovery.

This comes in the wake of many positive economic reports lately, which suggest that the economy is back on track after a long slump following the 2008 financial crisis. Analysts had hoped that this report would continue that trend and maintain the positive outlook on the US economy. Employment is one of the key figures in the judgement of economic health and is especially important after a big recession. These figures are one of the most important releases in the month.

Weak Australian Jobs Data Highlights Misfiring Economy

SYDNEY -(Dow Jones)- Australia's economy shed jobs in February, delivering the second strong indicator this week that the economy is struggling under the weight of a high Australian dollar and adding to calls for lower interest rates.

Australia's unemployment rate rose to a seasonally adjusted 5.2% in February from 5.1% in January, while the number of employed fell 15,400, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said Thursday. Economists on average had expected an unemployment rate of 5.2%.

The drop in employment comes after the Reserve Bank of Australia kept its key rate on hold at 4.25% on Tuesday and kept alive the prospect of a cut in interest rates if needed.

Data Wednesday also showed the economy scratched out weak growth of just 0.4% in the fourth quarter.

Economists said the flow of news on the economy shows the economy is underperforming and the central bank may have more work to do in coming months and quarters with one or two rate cuts likely.

"Overall the economy is tracking at a bit below trend growth...which we believe leaves the door open for the RBA to cut rates," said Paul Bloxham, chief economist at HSBC Australia.

The economy has been creating an average of 4,000 jobs per month, not enough to prevent the unemployment rate from rising over time.

With the economy misfiring, Treasurer Wayne Swan faces an ever increasing challenge to bring the federal budget back into surplus as pledged in the year ending June 30, 2013.

He said this week company profits are down, stifling revenue flows. The budget is expected to be in deficit by around A$37 billion in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012.

The Australian dollar has risen by around 80% against the U.S. dollar since late 2008. The surge has put pressure on companies on the east coast not directly linked to the mining boom. Mining investment is surging, but only 20% of the economy is mining related. Read full news here.

Survey shows Canada Jobs and Trade Data Signal Slow Economic Recovery

Employment fell by 2,800 in February, the third drop in five months and one that wasn’t anticipated by any of the 25 economists in a Bloomberg News survey. Some 37,900 people left the workforce in the month, the largest drop since January 2009. Statistics Canada also reported the merchandise trade surplus narrowed to C$2.10 billion ($2.11 billion) from a revised C$2.86 billion in December as exports fell by the most in 11 months.

Job growth has been slowing since the middle of last year after hiring gains led the economy out of a recession in 2009. Yesterday, the Bank of Canada kept its key interest rate at 1 percent in the longest pause since the 1950s and said there are some signs of improving domestic spending and diminished risks from the global financial crisis.

“It’s going to be a slow process, even though we see sentiment recovering a bit,” said Jimmy Jean, a strategist in the fixed-income group at Desjardins Capital Markets in Montreal. “In terms of the domestic picture that the Bank of Canada referred to as being a little bit firmer, these reports could be a disappointment.”

The drop in the number of people in the labor force drove a decline in the jobless rate to 7.4 percent from 7.6 percent, Statistics Canada reported from Ottawa.

Waiting for Developments
“The employment data I find most disappointing, it’s six months we’ve been waiting for more positive developments,” Jean said. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News had forecast an increase of 15,000 jobs and a 7.6 percent unemployment rate.

The U.S. today reported its best six-month job streak since 2006, with a non-farm payrolls gain of 227,000 in February.

The Canadian dollar was little changed from yesterday at 99.01 cents per U.S. dollar at 3:37 p.m. in Toronto, erasing earlier losses after the U.S. figures were released. One Canadian dollar purchases $1.0100. Yields on two-year Canadian government bonds increased 1 basis point to 1.18 percent.

By industry, retailing and wholesaling led the job decline with a 37,400 decrease, followed by a 21,900 drop for transportation and warehousing, Statistics Canada said. Health care and social assistance fell 21,700 while public administration declined by 14,700. Read full article here.

Senators concerned about changes in L-1B visa programme

In a letter to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Alejandro Mayorkas, Senators Chuck Grassley and Dick Durbin said that they "are concerned about attempts by unscrupulous petitioners to obtain L-1B status for workers who do not truly possess specialized knowledge relating to the petitioning company."

The L-1B visa programme allows companies to transfer employees with "specialized knowledge" from the foreign facilities to their US offices for up to seven years. Specialized knowledge as defined by Congress as 'special knowledge of the company product and its application in international markets or an advanced level of knowledge of processes and procedures for the company.'

The Senators also wrote that both the Department of State and US Citizenship and Immigration Services' Administrative Appeals Office have considered the term "specialised knowledge" when adjudicating these visas, and encouraged USCIS to adopt the clear standards and reasoning provided by the State Department and the Administrative Appeals Office.

Grassley and Durbin's letter comes in response to the January 11, 2011, letter of Department of State that gives new guidance to consular officers on how to adjudicate visas under the specialized knowledge category.

According to the guidelines issued by the Department of State to consular officers around the world, posts should use certain criteria to assist in making an L-1B adjudication.

The criteria include the proprietary nature of the knowledge possessed by the visa applicant, whether the visa applicant is 'key' or normal personnel and whether the applicant possesses more skills or knowledge than an 'ordinary' employee.

"We are concerned about attempts by unscrupulous petitioners to obtain L-1B status for workers who do not truly possess specialized knowledge relating to the petitioning company," the Senators said.

"We are concerned that any weakening of the standard would create additional incentives for some employers to use the L-1B visa programme in order to circumvent even the minimal wage and other labor protections for American workers in the H-1B visa programme," the Senators said.

Jobless rate at 3-year low as payrolls surge

Statistics showed that the United States created jobs at the fastest pace in nine months and the unemployment rate unexpectedly dropped to a near three-year low, giving a boost to President Barack Obama.

Nonfarm payrolls jumped 243,000, the Labor Department said recently, as factory jobs grew by the most in a year. The jobless rate fell to 8.3 percent - the lowest since February 2009 - from 8.5 percent in December.

The gain in employment was the largest since April and it far outstripped the 150,000 predicted in a Reuters poll of economists. It hinted at underlying economic strength and lessened chances of further stimulus from the Federal Reserve.

"More pistons in the economic engine have begun to fire, pointing to accelerating economic growth. One of the happiest persons reading this job report is President Obama," said Sung Won Sohn, an economics professor at California State University Channel Islands.

The payroll gains were widespread - from retail to temporary help, and from construction to manufacturing - an indication the recovery was becoming more durable.

A survey of households showed the unemployment rate declined even as new job seekers flooded into the labor force. Economists had expected the jobless rate, which has now fallen 0.8 percentage point since August, to hold steady. Read full article

Work opportunities still open for Indian students: top UK official

There will still be opportunities for highly skilled students from non-EU countries such as India after their studies in UK, even as new visa rules come in effect from April 6, a top education official has said.

“Students can currently work in the UK for 2 years after their studies have finished under the Tier 1 (Post-study work) route. But from April 6, a more selective system will come into effect, so only the most talented international graduates can apply to stay in the UK for work purposes,” Prof Eric Thomas, President of the Universities UK has said.

“Only those who graduate from a university, and have an offer of a skilled job at a salary of at least 20,000 pounds (or more in some cases) from a reputable employer accredited by the UK Border Agency, will be able to continue living and working in the UK. There will still be an opportunity to work,” he said.

Noting that UK continues to be one of the most attractive study destinations in the world, he said efforts are being made to ensure that international students are not included in Government's net migration figures.

Dr Newman, Director of International UK Higher Education, said she would visit India in the first week of April to attend a Round Table meeting convened by Union Minister Kapil Sibal.

New rules will come into force within weeks to cut abuse of the student visa route and ensure that only the brightest and the best students can stay and work in the UK.

The rules are part of a radical overhaul of the student visa system, which will encourage growth, boost the economy (young entrepreneurs or small company directors will get the chance to stay on in the UK after their studies if they have 50,000 pounds to invest in their business), ensure that students can support themselves, tackle abuse – restricting work placements to one-third of the course for international students who are studying below degree level will ensure that those coming to the UK are here to study, not to work (as was often the case in the past).

Additionally, the time that can be spent studying at degree level will be restricted to a general limit of 5 years.

UK further tightens visa rules

For the first time, Britain is breaking the link between the number of years a migrant spends in the country and permanent settlement, by introducing a 35,000-pound annual salary threshold for those seeking to avail the privilege.

Until now, permanent settlement was automatic: if a migrant spends five years in the UK in an immigration route that leads to settlement, and has not committed major criminal offences, permanent settlement was granted, irrespective of the salary level.

The new measure announced today is scheduled to be introduced in April 2016, after which migrants will need to show evidence of earning at least 35,000 pounds in annual salary before being granted permanent settlement.

Placing the 35,000 pounds salary threshold will result in the number of non-EU migrants granted permanent settlement dropping to 20,000 from 60,000 annually, the Home Office said.

Those who do not qualify will be required to leave the UK after six years.

Immigration Minister Damian Green said migrants who enter as PhD-level scientists and researchers will qualify for settlement without having to meet the 35,000 minimum salary threshold.