Senate passes H-1B visa bill

American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act of 2000

The Senate voted Tuesday to increase the number of H-1B visas issued over

the next three years by nearly 300,000, a move seen as helping the shortage

of skilled information technology workers.

H-1B visas are temporary visas issued to foreign workers who come to

the United States to work for a six-year term.

The high-tech industry has been hindered by worker shortages, and this

bill goes a long way toward relieving those shortages, said Marc Brailov,

the public communications director for the American Electronics Association,

an industry trade group.

The American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act of 2000 (S.2045)

will amend the Immigration and Nationality Act. Introduced by Sen. Orrin

Hatch (R-Utah), the bill will raise the cap on H-1B visas for each of the

next three fiscal years. It passed 96-1.

Currently, Immigration and Naturalization Service issues 115,000 such

visas a year, but under the new law, it will be able to issue an additional

85,000 in 2000, 87,500 in 2001 and 130,000 in 2002.

The bill also increases the portability of the visas. Previously, holders

of H-1B visas could not legally change jobs. The new act removes this restriction

and also allows visa holders to remain in the United States during visa

hearings instead of being immediately deported.

High-tech industries had pushed for the passage of the bill because

they say they cannot find enough qualified Americans to fill their employment


Passing the bill "is a vote for keeping the U.S. at the forefront of

the global economy," said Bob Cohen, the senior vice president of the Information

Technology Association of America (ITAA), another trade group that had been

pushing for the bill.

Also included in the bill are several programs designed to appease those

who complain that jobs are being taken away from Americans. The bill directs

the National Science Foundation to conduct a study of the digital divide

and report to Congress within 18 months. It also allots funds to NSF to

fund programs in elementary and high schools in math, science and technology



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