Statement by Rep. Sheila Lee (D-TX).
Hearing: House Subcommittee on Immigrations and Claims.
Re: H1B visas.

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


AUGUST 5, 1999

Good Morning Mr. Chairman. The H1-B visa program is an important one and has been one throughout this past year as we voted to raise the cap last year in the 105th Congress. I voted last year for the bill that would do this in the Full Committee, and on the floor as it was attached to the Omnibus Appropriations bill. However, I like many Members did have some concerns about this program and still do.

Last year while considering H.R. 3736, the "Workforce Improvement and Protection Act of 1998" during full committee mark-up, many Democrats took the position that although it is true that in recent years the high tech industry has fueled enormous growth in the United States and has benefitted the corporate information technology, any raising the cap on these types of specialty workers should include an increased commitment to training by U.S. workers. The growing workforce of our country and the strength and growth of the high tech industry in particular can be met effectively by fully developing the skills of our own workers as a first priority, before hiring highly specialized foreign workers.

I believe that the current high demand market for certain technical specialties is that it should encourage us to retrain displaced workers, attract underrepresented women and minorities, better educate our young people and recommission willing and able older workers who have been forced in to unemployment H-1B visas are available to workers who are coming temporarily to the United States to perform services in a specialty occupation. This is an occupation that requires (A) theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge, and (B) attainment of a bachelor's or higher degree in the specific specialty (or its equivalent) as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States.

Although this hearing is limited to high tech workers, other groups of employees also receive H-1B visas. According to Labor Department data for fiscal year 1996, 41.5% of the visas were for computer-related occupations, which are considered the "high tech workers, 19.5% were for therapists, 4.9% were for other medicine/health professionals, 2.9% were for college/university faculty, 2.5% were for registered nurses, 2.4% were for accountants/auditors, and 2.3% were for physicians. A raise in the number of H-1B visas would increase immigration in all of these occupations, not just in the high tech occupations.

Prior to the passage of the American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998 ("ACWIA"), the number of H-1B visas that could be issued during any fiscal year could not exceed 65,000. The ACWIA raised this cap to 115,000 for fiscal year 1999, and this cap was reached in July.

Chairman Smith called this hearing to find out why the cap was reached so quickly and to determine whether Congress should raise it again.

According to studies by the Information Technology Association of America ("ITAA"), in 1997 and 1998, and a 1997 report from the Commerce Department, we do not have a sufficient number of people skilled in information technology to meet the needs of United States companies. These reports were criticized in March of 1998 by the General Accounting Office ("GAO"). Among other things, GAO pointed out that the reports did not consider (1) the numerical data for degrees and certifications in computer and information sciences other than at the bachelor's level when they quantified the total available supply; (2) college graduates with degrees in other areas; or (3) workers who have been, or will be , retrained for these occupations.

Similarly, in a recently published report, the Commerce Department concluded that while there is no evidence pointing to a tight labor market for highly skilled information technology occupations, due to limitations of available data, there is no way to establish conclusively whether there is, or is not, an overall information technology workers shortage.

It is not necessary to determine whether or not there really is a shortage of high tech workers in the United States. Whether or not there is a shortage in fact, it is a certainty that the American companies are not doing enough to meet their needs with people from the American workforce. Let's consider the following facts:

Not one Silicon Valley firm recruited during the 1998 conference of the National Council of Black Scientists and Engineers in Oakland, California (only 60 miles from the heart of Silicon Valley). Only two Silicon Valley firms fund scholarships through the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, which provides assistance to ten percent of all under represented group students in engineering. And the National Society of Black Engineers of Silicon Valley has only four corporate sponsors.

In addition to the failure to recruiting young people from minority groups, there is a general failure to fully utilize older, more experienced workers. The suspicion is that high tech companies hire young foreign workers instead of recruiting more experienced people because the more experienced people require higher salaries. While many companies do need people with highly specialized skills, these skills can be learned by the older, more experienced people as well as by people just graduating from school.

In conclusion Mr. Chairman, we need to approach the H1-B visa specialty program with two eyes wide open. One eye focused on looking out for our American workers to ensure proper training, and the other eye focused on the underrepresentation of minorities and women in the high tech industry who currently comprise our American workforce.

Thank-you Mr. Chairman.