By Marianne Kolbasuk McGee
Sep 6, 2006 02:00 PM
The current cap of 65,000 H-1B visas for foreign workers—including techies—isn’t likely to be raised before Oct.1, the start of fiscal 2007. But that’s not stopping some American programmers from worrying or tech employers from lobbying.
Mid-term election campaigning is going into full throttle, and because the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives don’t agree on many big, hot-potato immigration issues, it’s unlikely Congress will pass a comprehensive–and controversial– immigration reform bill anytime soon. For one thing, Senate and House calendars are full, say Washington insiders.
But despite their differences, the Senate and House immigration bills both have common provisions to raise the number of H-1B visas allotted annually to foreign workers from 65,000 to 115,000, with options to increase the cap by 20% yearly, based on employers’ needs.
Those increase proposals are also included in separate legislation introduced in May by Sen. John Cronyn (R-Tex.), whose “Securing Knowledge, Innovation and Leadership,” or “Skil Bill,” focuses only on H-1B and green-card– or permanent residency–reform, and not on other sticky immigration issues, such as border security.
“The senator would like to see the [Skil] bill move, but the calendar is quite full right now,” says a Cronyn spokesman.
Nonetheless, those bills’ common H-1B-related provisions are fueling uneasiness among some U.S. tech workers and hopefulness among vendors, even though time seems to be running out for passage of a large immigration reform bill by current members of Congress.
“Sometimes we think these things are dead, and then someone slips something through at 5 pm on a Friday,” says Kim Berry, president of the Programmers Guild, an American IT worker advocacy group that opposes raising the H-1B cap. “I’m worried they’ll stick these provisions onto another bill without a hearing,” he says.
Indeed, it’s still possible that Congress will pass provisions as part of another bill or as separate legislation to raise the H-1B cap during a lame duck session before new members are sworn in next January, depending on the outcome of the elections, says Microsoft director of federal government affairs Jack Krumholtz.
“There’s still a window of opportunity Congress will pass H-1B and green card reform post-election,” says Krumholtz. Microsoft and other tech vendors will continue “to push for high-skill relief” by lobbying for increases in the annual cap of H-1B visas and green-cards, which allow foreign workers to work permanently in the U.S.
At Microsoft, “we have a couple thousand open technology positions that we’re not able to fill,” including development positions, says Krumholtz. “It’s getting harder and harder to find people,” he says. “There’s increasing pressure to look for other avenues,” including doing work outside the U.S. if talent can’t be found here, he says.
And despite recent layoffs in the tech industry—including Intel’s announcement this week that it’s eliminating 10,500 jobs—the specific talent Microsoft is looking for is “apples and oranges” compared to jobs being shed, Krumholtz says. “The jobs we’re looking to fill are not just IT engineers,” although Microsoft might call them that or “developers” internally,” he says. Microsoft is seeking “top computer scientists” with advanced degrees and the “latest training and skill sets,” he says.
Each year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services begin accepting petitions on April 1 for H-1B visas issued in the next fiscal year. For the last couple of years, the U.S. had received enough petitions for the annual allotment of 65,000 H-1B visas months before the new fiscal year begins. For fiscal 2007 beginning Oct 1, the U.S. hit its H-1B visa cap in late May 2006, about two months after the government began accepting requests for the petitions on April 1.