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March 2, 2000
Immigration foe introduces legislation to increase H1-B visas
R S Shankar
Despite the persistent criticism against the H1-B visa program, yet another bill has been introduced in Congress to increase their numbers -- and this one is by a man who is not known for his anti-immigration stand.
Powerful trade unions across America have denounced the H1-B visa program, questioning constantly the high tech industry's claim that there is a shortage of qualified American workers. The shortage is industry-made, union leaders say, and is due to the simple fact that many workers who are above 40.
Many Indians programmers, who received half of the 115,000 visas released last year, call themselves indentured labor because it takes them about five years to get a green card and they should till then stay with one employer.
But on March 1, Lamar Smith, chairman of the powerful House immigration subcommittee introduced legislation that would increase the visas for skilled foreigners by 45,000 this year.
Smith is a Republican from Texas.
The bill in the Senate -- introduced by Republican Orrin Hatch and backed by, among others, Phil Gramm, the powerful Republican Senator from Texas -- plans to increase the visa numbers to 195,000 for each of the next three years.
Congressional insiders say there could be a compromise version of the two bills -- and the visas could be capped at 170,000, which certainly will not make the high-tech industry happy. High-tech lobbyists want the cap at 250,000 -- at least. An industry trade group, the Computing Technology Industry Association, claims nearly 269,000 high-tech jobs are now unfilled, costing US businesses millions of dollars.
Washington insiders say Smith introduced his bill as a sort of pre-emptive measure, hoping he could tell the anti-immigration group that he brought down the quota from the projected 195,000.
"It is a good news, bad news story," Harris Miller, president of the Information and Technology Association, told reporters.
"The good news is that Chairman Smith, who has been skeptical in the past about the need for more H-1Bs, has now indicated he clearly does accept there is a serious problem."
Smith told reporters that his proposal is a "reasonable, realistic response to the demonstrated actual needs of the industry."
Among the backers of the bill is Tom Campbell, whose California district includes Silicon Valley.
"Our bill seeks to solve an immediate problem," Smith continued at a news conference. "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."
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