[Here the shortage is 300,000]
Skill-based Visas Ignite New Debate
Clinton Favors A Hike But Raps Senate Plan
By Aaron Zitner, Globe Staff
The Boston Globe, March 10, 2000
WASHINGTON -- The red-hot economy is forcing Congress to consider its
second increase since 1998 in the number of skilled workers that US firms
can hire from overseas, a boost vigorously supported by high-tech
companies, which say they face a severe worker shortage.
Some labor groups oppose any increase in the number of foreign workers,
however, saying that employers want to tap cheap labor rather than raise
wages. Yesterday, the Clinton administration said it would support a
"reasonable increase" in temporary foreign workers. But it also said the
leading Senate plan must do more to boost training programs to prepare
Americans for high-tech jobs.
The White House statement came as the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to
boost the annual number of so-called H-1B visas for skilled workers to
195,000 through 2002. (S. 2045) The cap had been 65,000, until lawmakers in
1998 raised it to 115,000.
The visas are designated for foreigners working in skilled professions,
such as nursing and computer programming. They are good for six years, but
lawmakers believe that most people using the visas intend to seek permanent
Senator Edward M. Kennedy had proposed a more modest increase, to 145,000
visas, but the Senate committee rejected that idea. Kennedy's proposal also
called for raising the visa fee that employers pay and using the money to
expand training programs.
Industry groups say that as many as 300,000 information technology jobs,
11,000 of them in Massachusetts, remain unfilled at US companies.
"There's absolutely no question that there's a crisis right now," said Jeff
Lande, of the Information Technology Association of America.
Some companies have said they are at risk of losing business to overseas
competitors because they do not have enough workers.
"The high-tech industry is growing by leaps and bounds, and they need all
the workers with technical skills that they can get," said Jim Klocke of
the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.
In 1999, the goverment met the cap for the visas halfway through the year,
and it appears that this year the quota will be filled well before the end
of the year.
But several labor groups oppose the bill. (S. 2045) They include the
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-USA, which claims more
than 200,000 members.
That union believes wages and working conditions for US workers are
undercut when more foreign workers are admitted on temporary visas, said
Paul Donnelly, a spokesman.
In addition, he said that the Senate bill would actually admit 300,000
foreigners each year, not 195,000, because it does not count people with
master's or doctoral degrees toward the cap. Over three years, the Senate
bill would admit 900,000 foreigners to fill a shortage that industry groups
calculate to be 300,000 jobs, Donnelly said.
A White House spokesman, Jake Siewert, said President Clinton backs a
"reasonable increase" in visas, though he would not say whether 195,000 is
Siewert also said that any increase in visas must be accompanied by new
training programs to prepare Americans for high-tech jobs.
The White House liked Kennedy's training proposal, he said, which was
rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee in favor of a more modest plan.
"We certainly think that it mirrors the principles we want to see in the
legislation," Siewert said of Kennedy's plan.