Statement by Rep. David Dreier (R-CA).
Hearing: House Subcommittee on Immigrations and Claims.
Re: H1B visas.

Date: August 5, 1999.
Source: House Judiciary Committee.

Testimony of Congressman David Dreier (R-CA)
Hearing on Workforce Immigration Issues
Immigration and Claims Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee

August 5, 1999

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

I come before you today to express my concern over the workforce skills shortages faced by the technology industry and in support of changes in immigration policy as one way to address this issue. I commend Chairman Smith for recognizing the important role technology companies play in our nation's economy, and holding this hearing to investigate the workforce shortage affecting this industry.

There is no doubt that our society has undergone a transformation from a time-consuming, paper-based economy to an efficient, fast-paced, digital economy. The size of the semiconductor industry, which produces the building blocks for information technology, has been doubling every eighteen months for the past thirty years. As a result, information technology has permeated every aspect of our society. The life of every American has been affected by this transformation; whether from enhanced telephone and banking services or from the way they shop for clothes. Everyday America is becoming more and more digitized.

In this new "Information Age" the demand for digital technologies and highly skilled workers to deliver these technologies has exploded. Excluding the biotechnology industry, the high-tech explosion experienced in the United States has created over 4.8 million jobs since 1993 and produced an industry unemployment rate of 1.4 percent. In California alone, this growth in technology has made the state number one in high-tech employment by creating 784,151 jobs and making up 61 percent of California's exports. As a result, our nation's economy has surged and the American people are enjoying the highest standard of living in history.

Currently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that between 1994 and 2005, more than a million new computer scientists and engineers, systems analysts, and computer programmers will be required in the United States. That is an average of 95,000 jobs per year. While our economy is strong, we must recognize that if cutting edge technology companies do not have access to growing numbers of highly skilled personnel, it will threaten our nation's ability to maintain robust economic growth and expanding opportunities. Already this shortage of skilled workers is threatening to undermine our prosperity by forcing companies to cancel job-creating projects. That is why I introduced the New Workers for Economic Growth Act of 1999 as the House companion for S. 1440, introduced by Senator Phil Gramm. This legislation increases the level of temporary nonimmigrant H-1B visas available for highly-skilled scientists and engineers to 200,000 for the years 2000-2002.

As you know, Congress attempted to address this shortage in last year's American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act (passed as part of the fiscal year 1999 Omnibus Appropriations bill) which increased the annual H-1B visa allotment from 65,000 to 115,000 for 1999-2000, 107,500 for 2001, and returning to 65,000 in 2002. While this was a great step in addressing the issue, this increase has already proved to be insufficient. Although the caps were raised this year to 115,000 there was a backlog of 19,431 visas which actually reduced the number of available visas for 1999. This year's cap was reached in June leaving 42,000 visas outstanding. Additionally, not all of the H-1Bs available are given to high-tech workers, as H-1Bs cover a variety of occupations.

The shortage of skilled workers is not being felt by the United States alone, it is a worldwide problem. Not only will United States companies face competition globally for sale of their products but also in the labor force to produce these products. Thus, the United States cannot depend on increased immigration to meet its long-term needs, we must focus on retaining and updating the skills of today's high-tech workers while educating and training new workers. It is clear that education reform along with worker training are essential to ensure that American citizens are able to take advantage of these positions.

A strong math and science program within our education system would greatly reduce the workforce shortage pressure. Current programs are not meeting this demand as illustrated by the fact that in 1994, only 24,553 U.S. students earned bachelor's degrees in computer and information science. This is unacceptable, especially when half of the students graduating from American universities with doctorates in science, math and computer programming are foreign-born students. The lack of investment in educating Americans in these critical subject areas is a serious long-term problem that must be addressed. In the meantime, we must at least capitalize on the education being provided to foreign nationals here in the United States by enabling U.S. companies to hire these graduates. It simply makes no sense to educate these workers in the U.S. and then send them to work for our global competitors. As Congress works to address the education aspect of the workforce shortage, I believe that in the short-term a temporary increase in H1B admissions is warranted.

In the spirit of responsible government, one would assume that acquiring the statistics on who is receiving H-1B and for what purpose would lend itself to an easy decision as to whether or not an adjustment to the caps is needed. Unfortunately, the inefficiency of our Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has once again been proven by its inability to provide such data. While the INS is required to begin collecting this data by October 2000 I am not confident the INS will sufficiently meet this requirement and provide accurate information. That is why I am preparing to request that the Government Accounting Office (GAO) conduct a study on who uses H-1B visas, for what occupations, and where the visas have gone. It is my hope that GAO will be able to provide Congress with the necessary information to better determine the direction of our workforce immigration policies.

In the meantime, we are heading into the new millennium as the global leader of the digital information revolution. Skilled professionals are needed to continue our leadership and the development of new products in this ever-changing, competitive environment. Without these professionals, the prosperity we are enjoying today will be threatened by delayed projects that is sure to stifle industry and global economic growth. I commend Chairman Smith for exploring the current situation and look forward to working with the Committee so that a workforce shortage does not threaten our vibrant economy.