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|March 25, 2000|
It's Official: No More H-1B Visas For This Year
R S Shankar
While several legislative initiatives to boost the number of H1-B visas are pending before the Senate and the House, government and industry sources officially confirmed this week that the high-tech firms have run out of foreign-worker visas for the third consecutive year.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service stopped accepting applications for H1-B visas well before the end of the fiscal year.
High-tech companies say they are tired of lobbying for more skilled foreign workers but they are not going to give up their efforts.
Even the legislation introduced by Silicon Valley Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (Democrat) to create a new tech visa to help foreign graduates from top American universities stay back has not gathered momentum in Congress.
Lofgren's bill would raise the quota to 200,000, setting aside about 60,000 of those for students who hold a master's degrees or a Ph D. She has also called the companies to pay $ 60,000 for the new employees.
In the Senate, Republicans Orrin Hatch from Utah and Spencer Abraham from Michigan have introduced a legislation that would raise the cap to 195,000 but their legislation provides exclusion for foreign nationals graduating with master's or Ph Ds.
Two years ago, Congress increased the cap from 65,000 to 115,000, a quota reached last year by June.
High-tech firms say they lose millions of dollars a year because they often hire what they describe as under-qualified workers and delay the expansion plans.
"Overall, this is not a situation we can face every spring," said Mary Dee Beall, government affairs manger at Hewlett-Packard Co.
Beall told the media this week that foreign citizens accounted for only 150 to 200 of the company's 8,000 new hires in the past year.
Commentators point out some of the problems facing the legislations. The Democrats must strike a balance between labor and high-tech groups especially in an election year. American trade unions oppose the H1-B visa hikes, saying the worker shortage is artificial, and that high-tech firms are getting rid of older American workers so that they can import younger workers for cheaper pay.
The Republicans such as Hatch will have to negotiate with party hard-liners opposed to immigration in any form.
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