Push for tech worker visas renewed

American Electronics Association

As Congress returns this week from its August recess, high-tech groups are

urging lawmakers to raise the cap on H-1B visas, which allow skilled foreigners

to work in the United States for up to six years.

The cap of 115,000 H-1B visas for fiscal 2000 was reached in March,

and the Immigration and Naturalization Service will begin processing a backlog

of about 60,000 applicants when fiscal 2001 begins next month.

With such a large backlog, the fiscal 2001 cap of 107,500 could be reached

even before calendar 2001 begins, said Thom Stohler, director of workforce

policy at the American Electronics Association, a Washington, D.C.-based

trade group representing more than 3,000 technology firms.

"The cap drops to 65,000 on Oct. 1, 2001," Stohler said. "That illustrates

how strongly we need the cap raised."

The H-1B visa program provides a way for U.S. employers, including government

agencies and contractors, to quickly hire foreign professionals temporarily.

Increasingly, the visas are being used to fill IT-related positions as the

economy becomes more dependent on the high-tech industry.

Two bills pending in Congress would increase the H-1B visa cap to about

200,000 annually and would take additional steps such as exempting foreign

nationals who graduate from U.S. universities with advanced technology degrees

from having to go through the H-1B visa process.

Bipartisan support exists for H-1B legislation, but an agreement has

been stalled over other, unrelated immigration issues being raised by Democrats.

Stohler said he was fairly confident Congress would take up the H-1B

legislation before adjourning in October, and he added that if the cap is

raised, the next step would be seeking a permanent solution to the H-1B

visa program so that it does not have to be dealt with every year.

Information from Computerworld and Federal Computer Week contributed to

this report.

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