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June 06, 2002
Expect Renewal of Debate Over H1-Bs
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t year, information-technology firms laid off 2.6 million workers and hired 2.1 million. The size of the IT workforce shrank from 10.4 million to 9.9 million. As a result, hundreds of thousands of IT workers are jobless or work in other fields.

Yet from Oct. 1, 2001, to March 30, 2002, employers applied to the Immigration and Naturalization Service to bring in 105,800 foreign workers.

Norman Matloff, a computer-science professor at the University of California, Davis, tells the Christian Science Monitor that such hiring of foreigners is mostly unnecessary with so many Americans, including graduates in computer science, available.

To Matloff, it reflects the desire of high-tech companies to get cheaper and more malleable foreign workers. "The recession has given them more incentive to save money," he charges.

But Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, disagrees. "The employer community is being very responsible," he told the newspaper. "They did not abuse the program. This is not just a cheap-labor program."

The debate is not a new one, according to the Monitor, but it will get fresh attention next year, when Congress is slated to review limits for H1-B visas.
Without action, the national ceiling for H1-B visas will revert from the present 195,000 annual level to 65,000 in 2004.

Miller indicates he will seek continuation of the program at the 195,000 level. The IT industry, he says, has turned a corner.

With the downturn in the industry, some laid-off H1-B employees have gone home, the Monitor reports. Others have sought sponsorship and work from other employers, as they are allowed to do. Some have found an American spouse, which makes it easier to get a green card for permanent residency. Others have been sponsored by their employers for a green card.

Paul Donnelly, a Hyattsville, Md., consultant on immigration, suspects at least 500,000 H1-B visa holders live in the U.S., many unemployed or underemployed.
The INS has indicated that it is not trying to track H1-B workers to see if they still have a job, or to send home those who are jobless.

Relevant to that decision, a study by the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington last month found that the 48 foreign radicals involved in terrorism since 1993 got into the US as students, tourists, or business travelers; sneaked across the border; stowed away on ships; used false passports; were illegal immigrants that were granted amnesty, applied for political asylum, or were already legal residents or Americans.

None were H1-Bs.

"One shouldn't make too much of that," notes Miller, since any group of new arrivals could have some "bad actors" in it. But H1-B workers are "screened" by their employers for their education and other qualifications.

Under the law, employers hiring foreign tech workers under the H1-B program are supposedly unable to find Americans qualified to do the job. They also must pay H1-Bs prevailing wages.

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