Rumors Swirl Around Future of Popular H-1B Visa Program

Hewlett Packard technicians work on nanotechnology research in a clean room at HP headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2007. HP researchers say they have developed a way to integrate nanotechnology and traditional circuitry designs in a specific kind of programmable computer chip, an advance that could help companies dramatically reduce the amount of energy their chips use to process information while continuing to manufacture ever-smaller devices. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
National Journal
Fawn Johnson
Add to Briefcase
Fawn Johnson
April 3, 2013, 3:30 p.m.

The high-tech com­munity is wait­ing anxiously to see how quickly the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment will put the brakes on em­ploy­ers’ abil­ity to bring for­eign work­ers in­to the coun­try. It could be very soon. On Monday, DHS star­ted ac­cept­ing pe­ti­tions for H-1B visas for high-skilled for­eign work­ers who would start their U.S. jobs in Oc­to­ber. Lim­ited to 85,000 for the en­tire 2014 fisc­al year, the visas are ex­pec­ted to run out with­in a few weeks.

But the tech and man­u­fac­tur­ing com­munit­ies are also riv­eted to the “Gang of Eight” sen­at­ors put­ting the fi­nal touches on a broad­er im­mig­ra­tion bill. While the ne­go­ti­at­ors are keep­ing quiet on the de­tails of the deal, ru­mors are swirl­ing about how the le­gis­la­tion treats the H-1B pro­gram. Most ob­serv­ers ex­pect the an­nu­al cap on H-1B visas to be raised, per­haps to more than double the cur­rent level. But there are also rum­blings of in­creased fees that could be as high as $10,000 per H-1B work­er for com­pan­ies that hire lots of them.

DHS is ex­pec­ted to an­nounce the H-1B avail­ab­il­ity (or lack there­of) for FY2014 next week. “We be­lieve it will not be long be­fore they are all taken,” said Scott Cor­ley, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of Com­pete Amer­ica, a co­ali­tion of tech and en­gin­eer­ing com­pan­ies.

This is a per­en­ni­al prob­lem for the tech­no­logy and man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tors, which routinely bring in for­eign en­gin­eers or com­puter whizzes when they can’t find suit­able U.S. work­ers to fill open­ings. DHS ac­cepts pe­ti­tions for H-1B visas six months be­fore the fisc­al year in which they are is­sued, and it is not un­com­mon for the visas to run out in a few days.

This year, the H-1B ap­plic­a­tion lot­tery car­ries more polit­ic­al weight be­cause it oc­curs as law­makers are draft­ing changes to the H-1B pro­gram as part of a lar­ger im­mig­ra­tion bill. Sen. Chuck Schu­mer, D-N.Y., has in­dic­ated a will­ing­ness to in­crease the an­nu­al H-1B cap, which would be good news for tech com­pan­ies. “We’re hit­ting the cap on highly skilled im­mig­rants so quickly be­cause these work­ers con­trib­ute so much to the Amer­ic­an eco­nomy,” said Busi­ness Roundtable Re­search Dir­ect­or Matt Son­nesyn. “We need to raise the caps on highly skilled im­mig­rant cat­egor­ies and avoid overly bur­eau­crat­ic rules that would in­hib­it ac­cess to these work­ers.”

The bad news for busi­ness is that the H-1B pro­gram is un­pop­u­lar among some Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., a “gang” mem­ber, and Sen. Chuck Grass­ley, R-Iowa, who is not one of the ne­go­ti­at­ors, have long ad­voc­ated H-1B changes that would severely cur­tail the pro­gram. Grass­ley re­cently re­in­tro­duced his H-1B bill to pro­hib­it visas for com­pan­ies whose work­forces are made up of more than half H-1B work­ers. Durbin gen­er­ally spon­sors that le­gis­la­tion with Grass­ley, but he bowed out this time in de­fer­ence to the Gang of Eight ne­go­ti­ations.

There are H-1B haters out­side Con­gress as well. Among them is the IEEE-USA, an as­so­ci­ation of pro­fes­sion­al en­gin­eers. IEEE-USA has no qualms with for­eign tech­ni­cians in the United States as long as they are giv­en green cards to al­low them to stay in the coun­try and be­come cit­izens. But, like Grass­ley and Durbin, IEEE-USA wor­ries that for­eign com­pan­ies ab­use the pro­gram by cyc­ling for­eign work­ers in and out of the coun­try to build their busi­nesses out­side of the United States. “This pro­gram has be­come more and more and more the vehicle for out­sourcers,” said IEEE-USA spokes­man Bruce Mor­ris­on. “People get hands-on ex­pert­ise [in the United States], then they can go back abroad and their work can be sold from abroad rather than in the United States, and of course the costs are much lower.”

Schu­mer, mean­while, is fond of hik­ing the fees for H-1B visas in­stead of out­right ban­ning them for com­pan­ies that make heavy use of them. In 2010, he shep­her­ded le­gis­la­tion through Con­gress to boost bor­der se­cur­ity and paid for it by hik­ing the H-1B ap­plic­a­tion fee by $2,000 each for com­pan­ies with more than 50 em­ploy­ees and more than 50 per­cent of their work­ers on H-1B visas. Lob­by­ists say the Gang of Eight’s deal could in­clude some type of slid­ing up­ward scale, in which the price of an H-1B visa es­cal­ates with the com­pany’s per­cent­age of H-1B work­ers.

If the fees are as high as some lob­by­ists think they are — $10,000 for each H-1B work­er — that could change busi­ness mod­els for some com­pan­ies. That may be the goal of law­makers, but it will stir up a lot of con­sterna­tion in high-tech and man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pan­ies.

What We're Following See More »
CALLS FOR ‘NO CRS”
Trump Floats Support for Nuclear Option in Senate
10 hours ago
THE LATEST
MORE AGENCIES TO FURLOUGH WORKERS
Senate Can’t Reach Deal on Shutdown, Will Try Again Monday
10 hours ago
THE LATEST

The Senate on Sunday failed to reach agreement on a plan to fund the government through Feb. 8, postponing the vote until noon on Monday. "While lawmakers angled to score political points or shift blame, most agencies planned Monday to begin executing orderly shutdown procedures, per guidance from Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney."

Source:
TRUMP CANCELS FLORIDA TRIP
Congress Heads Back to Work to End Shutdown
1 days ago
THE LATEST

"The Senate was expected to be back in session at noon, while House lawmakers were told to return to work for a 9 a.m. session. Mr. Trump on Friday had canceled plans to travel to his private resort on Palm Beach, Fla., where a celebration had been planned for Saturday to celebrate the anniversary of his first year in office."

Source:
CLOTURE FAILS
Government Shutdown Begins, as Senate Balks at Stopgap
1 days ago
THE LATEST

"A stopgap spending bill stalled in the Senate Friday night, leading to a government shutdown for the first time since 2013. The continuing resolution funding agencies expired at midnight, and lawmakers were unable to spell out any path forward to keep government open. The Senate on Friday night failed to reach cloture on a four-week spending bill the House had already approved."

Source:
HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS IN SUSPICIOUS CHECKS FLAGGED
Mueller’s Team Scrutinizing Russian Embassy Transactions
3 days ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login