Congress Likely to Allow Visa Numbers to Drop

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The limit on H-1B visas is set to drop on Oct. 1, from 195,000 to 65,000. The only thing that will prevent this is Congress, which needs to act by the end of September. That’s looking less and less likely to happen. On Sept. 16, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to take a look at the H-1B visa and its effects on the U.S. economy and on U.S. workers.




The H-1B visa is a temporary visa used to bring foreign workers with specialized skills into the United States. It has increasingly come under fire lately as the U.S. economy has weakened and unemployment has risen, particularly among high-tech workers and other jobs for which H-1B visa workers are commonly hired. At the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, several people testified in favor of maintaining a higher cap on these visas than the 65,000-limit.




For instance, Stephen Yale-Loehr of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, for instance, suggested a “modest” increase of the cap to 115,000 for 2004, saying that if Congress does not increase the cap from 65,000 companies will not be able to fill their open positions with qualified workers as the economy recovers.




Elizabeth Dickson, director of immigration services for Ingersoll-Rand Company, testified that the cap causes “great hardship” to employers in the United States. She cited fiscal years 1997 and 1998 as an example. In those years, she said the cap was reached and petitions were put on hold, leaving visa candidates in “limbo” and forcing employers to remove skilled employees from their payrolls. She added that immigration policy-makers should take economic security and competitiveness into consideration.




Patrick Duffy, human resources attorney for Intel Corp., said, “If immigration law and regulations create barriers to our ability to hire H-1B workers with the advanced, university-level education in engineering and the hard sciences, Intel and other companies will be required to move to those countries where the talent resides since we have not been able to find enough U.S. workers with the advanced engineering degrees we need.”




Countering these views was John Steadman, president-elect of IEEE-USA, an organization for engineers. “IEEE-USA is extremely concerned that current levels of engineering unemployment—precipitated by the collapse of the dot-com and telecommunications sectors—are being exacerbated by the continuing reliance of many employers on foreign-born professionals admitted under the H-1B and other ‘temporary’ work permit programs and by the global outsourcing of engineering and other high-paying manufacturing and service sector jobs.”




Steadman concluded that the importance of creating and sustaining high-wage/high-value-added jobs for U.S. high-tech workers means Congress should look beyond the “narrow issue of H-1B visas” to other business practices that are affecting the nation’s high-tech workforce.




For now, it doesn’t look as though Congress is planning to act to increase the limit on H-1B visas from the 65,000 cap it will revert to on Oct. 1. To read the full transcript of the hearing, or to view a webcast of the hearing, visit



Emily Hollis is associate editor for Certification Magazine. She can be reached at

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