IEEE-USA Issue Brief 106th Congress

Professional Careers Issues 1999 -2000

Issue: Employment-Based Admissions Reform (H-1B Visas)

Legislative History

In 1990, in response to widespread claims that the nation faced serious shortages of engineers and scientists, Congress authorized substantial increases in employment-based immigration. The Immigration Act of 1990 raised permanent, employment-based admissions ceilings from 54,000 to 140,000 a year; created new, non-immigrant admissions programs (including the H-1B visa program) for skilled professionals; and streamlined administrative procedures governing the admission of foreign nationals to work in the United States on temporary visas.

Congress responded to claims by employers that they faced serious shortages of information technology workers by enacting the American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998. The new law: authorized a 3 year increase in H-1B admissions from 65,000 to 115,000 in 1999 and 2000 and to 107,500 in 2001; established a new $500 H-1B visa application fee to fund scholarships and retraining programs; and imposed new worker safeguards requirements designed to ensure that ``H-1B dependent'' employers will recruit U.S. workers and will not lay off Americans before hiring foreign workers.

IEEE-USA Policy Initiatives in the 105th Congress (1997-1998)

IEEE-USA opposed enactment of ACWIA based on our conviction that employers' worker shortage claims were seriously overstated and that the new worker safeguards should apply to all employers who hire H-1B workers, not just to a handful of ``H-1B dependent'' businesses.

It has long been IEEE-USA's position that employment-based admissions reforms should strike a reasonable balance between employers' needs for easier access to skills that may be in short supply and the public need to safeguard educational and job opportunities for citizens, legal permanent residents and foreign nationals who have been legally admitted to study or work in the United States.

Legislative Developments in the 106th Congress

Almost as soon as the new H-1B visa limits took effect, employers in business and at educational institutions issued renewed claims that the nation faces IT worker shortages of crisis proportions and began pressing Congress for another increase in temporary admissions ceilings.

In 1999, in response to these appeals - and promises of generous financial contributions to their election and re-election campaigns - legislators from Texas, California, Virginia and Arizona introduced bills providing for additional increases in the admission of foreign IT workers.

These bills include:

The New Workers for Economic Growth Act (S. 1440), introduced by Senator Phil Gram

(R-TX), will raise H-1B admissions ceilings to 200,000 a year in 2000, 2001 and 2002. The bill will also exclude foreign professionals with master's degrees earning at least $60,000 a year and foreign professionals who work for U.S. educational institutions from the new caps.

The BRAIN Act (H.R. 2687), sponsored by Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), will enable

foreign students who earn bachelor's or higher degrees in engineering, mathematics and the sciences from U.S. colleges and universities (and receive job offers exceeding $60,000 a year) to stay and work in the United States for up to five years on new T visas.

Senator Chuck Robb (D-VA)'s new HITEC Act (S.1645) will also allow foreign students with degrees from U.S. educational institutions (Master's or Ph.D degrees) to remain in the United States for periods of up to five years on T visas when they complete their studies.

The 21st Century Technology Resources and Commercial Leadership Act (S. 1804), introduced by Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain (R-AZ) will establish a new educational grants program to improve math, science, engineering and technology competencies in the United States. Senator McCain's bill will also abolish all limits on H-1B visas.

Senators Orin Hatch (R-UT) and Spencer Abraham (R-MI) intend to introduce another

H-1B Visa proposal when Congress reconvenes in January. The Hatch/Abraham proposal will authorize another 40,000 to 50,000 increase in temporary H-1B admissions in 2000 and 2001; exempt foreign employees of U.S. educational and research institutions from the H-1B caps; and eliminate current per country limits on permanent immigration to the United States

How You Can Help

In 1999, IEEE-USA and 26 other national engineering societies said that it is premature to consider increasing current limits on temporary, employment-based admissions until the National Research Council completes and Congress has an opportunity to assess the results of studies mandated in the 1998 H-1B legislation. The purpose of the NRC studies is to examine information technology and the treatment of older workers in by high tech companies.

IEEE-USA members who are concerned about the need for another increase in temporary, employment-based admissions should communicate those concerns to their Senators and Representatives in Washington.