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October 03, 2000
Senate Passes H-1B Visa Bill: Almost Everyone Happy
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ober 3, 2000- The U.S. Senate basked today in the praise of tech industry execs for its passage of S. 2045, the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-first Century Act of 2000. The Senate's bill, passed 96-1, would let 600,000 immigrants get the highly sought after visas over the next three years.

Under current law, a cap of 115,000 visas granted each year will go down to 107,500 next year and to 65,000 in 2002 unless the House enacts similar new legislation. This legislation is designed to help address labor shortages in the high-tech sector.

The H-1B visa can be utilized for up to six years by a foreign-born highly-skilled professional to fill a job that cannot be otherwise filled by a U.S. worker.

Question about how big the cap could be

There has been speculation as to the exact number of jobs that have gone unfilled in the U.S. as a result of the current status of the cap, although estimates range from 300,000 to more than 500,000. Because the new fiscal year began this month, it is likely that the 2001 visa allotment will only sustain the program through this coming January.

Happiness at Texas Instruments

Texas Instruments, Microsoft and many other high tech companies have been strong advocates for raising the allowable limits, as well as bringing needed improvements to the green card process of hiring foreign nationals.

"Without this action -- which hopefully will lead to a bill being signed by the President -- our country's high tech global leadership is in jeopardy." "The challenge," said Steve Leven, Senior VP of HR at Texas Instruments: "is finding, attracting and retaining enough qualified professionals. For example, Texas Instruments has hired over 2,800 people this year, out of a total domestic workforce of 23,500. We still have over 1,700 vacancies with more than 1,000 of these for engineers and other senior professional positions."

The next step on Capitol Hill is for the House to take up the issue. "Our hope," said Leven, "is that the House can expedite this bill. With the broad bipartisan support it had in the Senate, the House should do the right thing and pass the bill this week."

TI uses the H-1B program primarily to fill positions for electrical engineers (EEs). With the current national unemployment rate near 30-year lows, unemployment among EEs is at 1.6 percent. Concurrent with the tight job market, the number of graduates from U.S. universities with EE degrees has dropped from 25,000 in 1987 to just over 13,000 in 1997. Also for 1997, U.S. universities awarded 6,400 masters' degrees and 1,500 Ph.D.'s in electrical engineering. Nearly half were awarded to foreign nationals.

Praise from Seattle

Microsoft also published a release praising the action: "Today's Senate action to expand the number of H-1B visas is an important step forward for the technology industry, the economy and America's global competitiveness. As we cope with increasing work-force shortages, this legislation will allow us to attract the workers we need to stay competitive, and it will help ensure that America has a pipeline of high-technology workers ready to take on the challenges of our fast-paced industry in the future."

"Microsoft has long believed that the future of our company -- and our industry -- lies in classrooms and computer labs across the country. We are extremely pleased that the Senate bill makes such investments in training and education programs, and we look forward to working with teachers,government and our industry to ensure that America has the best-trained, most highly skilled work force in the world."

The Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) also toasted the Senate for a job well done: "Companies in the software and information industry depend on highly skilled, globally experienced personnel to fully develop new products and remain competitive," said Ken Wasch, SIIA president. "SIIA has supported a dual approach of a temporary visa increase and expanded domestic education and high-tech training programs to help solve this serious problem. We salute the perseverance of the Senate&"

Labor unions oppose, VP wants more Hispanics covered

Labor unions have traditionally opposed increases in these visas, claiming that U.S. residents should be trained to fill the jobs. Vice President Gore issued a statement happy with the bill's passage, although he called for more training and support for Hispanics in the House bill, saying he was: "disappointed that the Senate bill does not include the Latino Immigration Fairness Act. The Act would ensure fairness for immigrants now living and working in the U.S., and I call on Congress to pass it before adjournment."

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