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 »
Steele Says Follow the Money
1 hours ago

"Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer who wrote the explosive dossier alleging ties between Donald Trump and Russia," says in a new book by The Guardian's Luke Harding that "Trump's land and hotel deals with Russians needed to be examined. ... Steele did not go into further detail, Harding said, but seemed to be referring to a 2008 home sale to the Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev. Richard Dearlove, who headed the UK foreign-intelligence unit MI6 between 1999 and 2004, said in April that Trump borrowed money from Russia for his business during the 2008 financial crisis."

Goldstone Ready to Meet with Mueller’s Team
1 hours ago

"The British publicist who helped set up the fateful meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a group of Russians at Trump Tower in June 2016 is ready to meet with Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's office, according to several people familiar with the matter. Rob Goldstone has been living in Bangkok, Thailand, but has been communicating with Mueller's office through his lawyer, said a source close to Goldstone."

Kislyak Says Trump Campaign Contacts Too Numerous to List
2 hours ago

"Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak said on Wednesday that it would take him more than 20 minutes to name all of the Trump officials he's met with or spoken to on the phone. ... Kislyak made the remarks in a sprawling interview with Russia-1, a popular state-owned Russian television channel."

DHS Resigns Over Racially Charged Comments
3 hours ago

"Rev. Jamie Johnson resigned Thursday as the head of faith-based and neighborhood partnerships at the Department of Homeland Security," following a CNN report on "inflammatory past comments he made about the black community and Islam. In past radio appearances, Johnson had said the black community was responsible for turning major U.S. cities into 'slums' and argued that Islam's only contribution to society was 'oil and dead bodies.'"

Trump-Branded Tower in Panama Linked to Organized Crime
4 hours ago

"An NBC News investigation into the Trump Ocean Club, in conjunction with Reuters, shows that" a high-end condo project in Panama, to which Donald Trump licensed his name, "was riddled with brokers, customers and investors who have been linked to drug trafficking and international crime. Ceballos, who investigated the project, went as far as to call the skyscraper 'a vehicle for money laundering.' The investigation revealed no indication that the Trump Organization or members of the Trump family engaged in any illegal activity, or knew of the criminal backgrounds of some of the project’s associates. But [they] never asked any questions about the buyers or where the money was coming from."


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.