H-1B Hubbub Heats Up
Firm launches negative ad campaign
By Richard Bruner
The voice on the radio or television spot sounds both ominous and intimate. But the
message is blunt: Congress is about to adopt a bill to bring hundreds of thousands of
foreign workers into the United States to fill some of our best jobs.
"These are well paying high-tech jobs that should be going to Americans,
especially our technically trained and highly qualified graduates," the voice
continues. "Congress is being pressured to pass a foreign worker bill by America's
super-rich high-tech companies."
At the end, the message urges the audience and readers to contact a specific
congressman identified as a supporter of the legislation.
"Go to your phone right now and call Congressman (Jim) Kolbe. Ask him to vote 'no'
on the foreign worker bill. Tell him to save this country's best jobs for American
The campaignprepared by Davis & Co., a Washington-based advertising agency
that specializes in issue-based political advertisinghas been spreading its message
since March to crucial congressional districts around the country.
At issue is legislation designed to increase the number of H-1B visas allowed for
foreign workers who have special skills. The Senate bill is sponsored by Michigan Senator
Abraham and would increase the maximum annual number of H-1B visas to 195,000. The House
bill by California Congresspersons David Dreier and Zoe Lofgren would increase the limit
Voting on Senate and House bills may come as early as the first week of July or as late
as the last week of September.
Dealing with the Worker Shortage
||Mike Foster, manager,
college recruiting, Intel Corp.
Everyone in the semiconductor industry and other high-tech sectors knows there is a
shortage of skilled employees. The long-term solution is to encourage more American
youngsters to study math and science and get degrees in engineering. The short-term
solution is to hire foreign students graduating from U. S. universities in engineering and
For example, Mike Foster, Intel's manager of college recruiting, has said his company
will try to hire thousands of engineers this year. They will come from college campuses,
competitors, and the military.
"When we hire, we look for skills. If those skills are (in) U.S. citizens, we hire
them," Foster said. Otherwise, Intel hires foreign nationals and helps them to obtain
Cathleen Barton, an Intel employee on loan to the Semiconductor Industry Association,
said that the number of American electrical engineering students has been steadily
declining, although computer science students are on the upswing, but not enough to offset
the decline in electrical engineering.
"For the most part, our industry hires to a large extent foreign national
students, educated in
U. S. universities at the master's and Ph.D. levels," Barton said. "Close to
half of them are foreign nationals. A large part of the best students, the most
well-rounded students, are foreign nationals."
Shortage or No Shortage?
Words like those send opponents of the legislation into a rage. Merrill W. Buckley Jr.,
president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)-USA, said,
"This legislation is going to allow 300,000 people coming in here in a specialty that
happens to be our specialty," Buckley said. "We graduate about 20,000 people
each year who are computer electronic engineers."
Not true, Barton said. She said a report by the Engineering Workforce Commission of the
American Association of Engineering Societiesof which IEEE is a
memberindicates that total bachelor's degrees granted in electrical engineering in
1988 were 24,367, whereas 10 years later1998that number had dropped to 12,498.
That is not an oversupply in today's employment market.
The Coalition, however, flatly contends that no high-tech labor shortage exists. And
the IEEE argues that many of its members cannot find work. Yet, the Bureau of Labor
Statistics has reported that the unemployment rate for experienced electrical engineers is
just 1.4 percent. Roy Howard Beck, spokesman for the Coalition for the Future American
Worker, the sponsor of the radio advertising campaign, scoffs at that.
"The numbers of electrical engineers in the 1990s who run pizza joints and things
like that are legion," Beck said. "Our coalition emphasizes that there are tens
of thousands of thrown-away engineers and programmers in this country. They're working at
The argument over numbers is unlikely to evolve into a consensus.
|| There are two
coalitions opposing legislation to increase H-1B visas. One is the Immigration
Reform Coalition, led by Paul Donnelly. The other is the Coalition for the Future American
Worker, whose spokesman is Roy Howard Beck, a former journalist. Members of that coalition
are: American Council for Immigration Reform; American Engineering Association, Fort
Worth, Texas; Americans for Better Immigration, Washington, D.C; American Immigration
Control Foundation, Monterey, Va.; BrainSavers.org; Immigration Political Action
Committee; POP.STOP Inc., Washington, D.C.; The Programmers Guild, Tennessee; and
Virginians for Immigration Control. Roy Howard Beck, spokesman for the Coalition for the
Future American Worker, said total membership for these groups is about 180,000.
"Whether there is or is not a shortage (of
electrical engineers), the quick answer is that there is no data that overwhelmingly
proves there is or there isn't," said Dan Hecker, a Bureau of Labor Statistics labor
economist in the office of employment projections.
In the meantime, high-tech industry lobbyists continue to press for passage of the
Senate and House bills expanding the number of H-1B visas available. The current maximum
is 115,000. And the Immigration and Naturalization Service announced not long ago that it
had reached that limit for fiscal year 2000 on March 21.
Radio Campaign Moves Ahead
Meanwhile, the radio campaign opposing the foreign worker bill continues. The campaign
is targeting specific districts. These are House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt's St.
Louis district; House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's Illinois district; Congressman Jim
Kolbe's Arizona district; Congressman Jay Inslee's Washington district; U.S. Senator
Spencer Abraham's state, Michigan; and the city of Washington, D.C., for good measure.
The advertising probably has been broadcast in a great many more communities, although
neither the advertising agency nor the sponsoring organization will reveal the extent of
"We do not intend to give away all of our strategy or tell exactly everything we
are doing or plan to do," said Coalition spokesman Beck. Nor will Beck or Brantley
Davis of Davis & Co., the advertising agency that created the radio commercials,
reveal the cost of the campaign. When it was suggested that it might run into the millions
of dollars, neither man denied it.