Tech Leaders, Immigration Foes Clash Over Tech Visas 03/22/00

Tech Leaders, Immigration Foes Clash Over Tech Visas 03/22/00 – Government Activity

David McGuire

WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A., 2000 MAR 22 (NB) — High-tech industry representatives and immigration foes locked horns today, debating over proposals aimed at increasing the number of technology-oriented H-1B visas available to foreign-born workers.

“The facts are very clear. The H-1B program is not an either-or program,” Information Technology Association of America President Harris Miller said during today’s Economic Strategy Institute-sponsored policy forum. Visas are not doled out “at the expense of American workers (or) at the expense of training” programs, Miller said.

Miller went on to warn that US high-tech companies will ship their business overseas if they can’t hire enough skilled workers in this country.

The high-tech industry contends that it is facing a potentially debilitating nationwide workforce shortage and that increasing the number of available H-1B visas is one of the only ways to address that problem in the near term. The ITAA and other high-tech industry groups support a pair of proposals currently moving through the House and the Senate that would substantially raise the 115,000 visa per year cap. The cap for 2000 was hit last week.

But immigration reform groups dispute the high-tech industry’s workforce shortage claims and further contend that H-1B visas represent an unfair and even inhumane method for filling worker needs.

“There are no objective, non-industry-related studies that prove there is a labor shortage,” Center for Immigration Studies Executive Director Mark Krikorian said during today’s discussion.

Krikorian and other H-1B detractors on the panel pointed to high unemployment rates among older engineers and picky hiring practices among technology firms as evidence that the industry’s plight as not as dire as it has been portrayed.

Krikorian went further to contend that H-1B workers are essentially indentured servants who aren’t much different than “people chopping cotton (in the South) in 1850.” While Krikorian conceded that H-1B holders are free to leave their employers, he said that H-1B holders feel they need to stay with their companies to obtain green cards.

While Miller did not dispute the existence of some abuse in the H-1B program, he said that the high-tech industry would welcome legislation aimed at stemming abuses.

In the meanwhile, the industry needs to be able to recruit high-tech workers, he said.

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