A visa program for foreigners with prized
high-tech skills would be increased by 45,000 this year under
legislation introduced today by the chairman of the House
The proposal by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, is far smaller than a
Silicon Valley-backed version introduced last month in the Senate
that would boost the H-1B program by nearly 300,000 visas over the
next three years.
The booming high-tech sector says it needs hundreds of thousands
of new workers immediately. But Smith says his plan for a one-time
boost of 45,000 visas, which would raise this year's allotment to
160,000, is sufficient.
"Our bill seeks to solve an immediate problem," Smith said.
"It will meet the anticipated needs of the high-tech industry
without overreaching and threatening an increase in the number of
foreign workers to the point of putting at risk the wages or jobs
of American workers and students."
Republican Reps. Tom Campbell, whose California district
includes Silicon Valley; Bob Goodlatte of Virginia; and Chris
Cannon of Utah are co-sponsors of the bill.
The bipartisan Senate bill offered by the chairmen of the Senate
Judiciary Committee and its immigration subcommittee would raise
the H-1B allotment to 195,000 annually for three years.
An industry trade group, the Computing Technology Industry
Association, claims nearly 269,000 high-tech jobs are now unfilled.
The problem costs U.S. businesses $4.5 billion a year in lost
productivity, according to the association.
But Smith said there is no "credible or objective study
documenting the high-tech labor shortage." The National Science
Foundation, which was directed by Congress in 1998 to undertake a
study of the high-tech industry's job needs, isn't due to complete
its work before fall.
Organized labor, which opposes increases in visas, contends the
foreign workers are unnecessary, and that high-tech executives are
looking overseas chiefly to hold down wages. Critics also contend
the program is rife with fraud.