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Bill Would Raise High-Tech Visas by 45,000
By Michelle Mittelstadt   Associated Press
WASHINGTON — 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 immigration subcommittee.

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.

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