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Summary of Bills Pertaining to
Visas for High Tech Workers
in the 106th Congress

This page was last revised on May 29, 2000.

This page summarizes the following bills:

  • S 1440, New Workers for Economic Growth Act (Gramm).
  • S 1645, HITEC Act (Robb)
  • S 1804, 21st Century Technology Resources and Commercial Leadership Act (McCain)
  • S 2045, American Competitiveness in the Twenty-first Century Act of 2000 (Hatch - Abraham - Gramm)
  • HR 2687, BRAIN Act (Lofgren)
  • HR 2698, New Workers for Economic Growth Act (Dreier)
  • HR 3508, untitled bill (Wu)
  • HR 3814, Technology Worker Temporary Relief Act (Smith)
  • HR 3983, Helping to Improve Technology Education and Achievement (HI-TECH) Act of 2000 (Dreier - Lofgren)
  • HR 4200, American Worker Information Technology Skills Improvement Act of 2000 (AWITSIA) (Lee)
  • HR 4227, Technology Worker Temporary Relief Act (Smith)
  • (See also, note on HR 2662, the Spousal Equity Act.)

Introduction and background. High-tech companies are having great difficulty finding workers with math, engineering, and computer science skills. Many people who could fill these positions are aliens who would not qualify for employment absent a work visa. H1B visas are issued for this purpose. In addition, there is a proposal to create a new visa category -- the T visa -- for aliens with student visas who have just received a post secondary degree in the U.S. in math, science, engineering, or computer science who have lined up a high paying job.

H1B visas are issued to certain highly skilled workers. Recently, high-tech companies that have been unable to fill job vacancies for positions requiring technical skills have increasingly turned to foreign workers to fill these positions. Non-immigrant visas issued pursuant to 8 USC 1101(a)(15)(H)(i)(b), commonly referred to as H1B, have provided these workers eligibility to work in the U.S. These visas are issued for "specialty occupations" and require "(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."

In 1998, the shortage of skilled high tech professionals caused the annual cap of 65,000 to be reached early in the year. High tech companies clamored for a temporary increase in the annual limit. The Congress complied by passing legislation that increased the cap from 65,000 to 115,000 for Fiscal Years 1999 and 2000, and to 107,500 in 2001. Organized labor opposed the bills. President Clinton also long opposed the bills, but relented during his impeachment crisis. An H1B bill was included in the Omnibus Appropriations Bill in October of 1998, which Clinton signed into law. The 1998 H1B bill also included detailed provisions designed to assure that companies cannot use H1B visa workers to displace American workers.

The annual cap for 1999 was reached about midway through the year. High tech companies are again seeking a further increase in the cap. In addition, Bob McTeer, who is an economist, and the President and CEO of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, has been publicly advocating further reform.

Also, the Congress has been investigating the issuance of visas on two fronts. First, the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration has been investigating H1B visas obtained through fraudulent applications. Second, this Subcommittee has also been investigating the replacement of American workers with H1B workers, and the Clinton administration's failure to promulgate worker protection regulations required by the 1998 Act. Third, the House Government Reform Committee has been investigating the improper issuance of visas by a former U.S. consular official in China. On July 29, 1999, this former official was called to testify before the Committee. He refused to testify on the grounds that he might incriminate himself.

On March 21, 2000, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) stated that "as of March 21, 2000, INS no longer accepts H-1B petitions for employment prior to October 1, 2000."

It appears likely that the Congress will pass an H1B visa bill in 2000. The most likely vehicles are S 2045 and HR 4227, which have been approved by the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, respectively.


S 1440, New Workers for Economic Growth Act

Sponsor. Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX). Original Cosponsors. Trent Lott (R-MS) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Additional Cosponsors. Spencer Abraham (R-MI), Bob Bennett (R-UT), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Trent Lott (R-MS), Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Summary. S 1440 IS would amend current law covering the annual caps on H1B visas. First, it would raise the annual cap on H1B visas to 200,000 for each of the fiscal years 2000, 2001, and 2002.

Second, it would provide that the annual numerical limitations would not include two types of H1B visas: (1) H1B visas issued to anyone who "has attained a master's degree or higher (or its equivalent) in a specialty related to the intended employment and receives wages (including cash bonuses and similar compensation) at an annual rate equal to at least $60,000", or (2) "has attained a bachelor's degree or higher degree (or its equivalent) and is employed (or has received an offer of employment) at an institution of higher education".

In addition, the bill would eliminate the reduction in Social Security benefits now imposed on individuals aged 65 through 69 who continue to work and whose earnings exceed $15,500 annually.

Sen. Gramm said in a statement published in the Congressional Record that the purpose of the bill is to "ensure that the U.S. economic expansion will not be impeded by a lack of skilled workers."

Status. This bill was introduced on July 27, 1999. It has not moved, because the Judiciary Committee approved a related bill, S 2045, on March 9, 2000. (See, below.)

Legislative History with Links to Related Materials.


S 1645, HITEC Act

Sponsor. Sen. Charles Robb (D-VA). Original Cosponsors. Tim Johnson (D-SD), John Kerry (D-MA), Pat Leahy (D-VT), Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Charles Schumer (D-NY).

Summary. S 1645 IS would create a new "T visa" category for certain aliens completing an advanced degree in mathematics, science, engineering, or computer science.

Status. This bill was introduced on September 28, 1999. It has not moved, because the Judiciary Committee approved a related bill, S 2045, on March 9, 2000. (See, below.)

Legislative History with Links to Related Materials.

  • 9/28/99. S 1645 IS introduced in the Senate, and referred to the Judiciary Committee.

S 1804, 21st Century Technology Resources and Commercial Leadership Act

Sponsor. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Cosponsors. None.

Summary. S 1804 would remove the annual cap on H1B visas through 2006. It would also create an undefined program at the Commerce Department to provide grants for the "advancement of science, math, engineering, and technology competencies and resources".

Status. This bill was introduced on October 27, 1999, when Sen. McCain was actively pursuing the Republican nomination for President. There has been no activity on the bill.

Legislative History with Links to Related Materials.

  • 10/27/99. S 1804 IS introduced in the Senate.
  • 10/27/99. S 1804 referred to the Senate Commerce Committee.

S 2045, American Competitiveness in the Twenty-first Century Act of 2000

Sponsor. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). Initial Cosponsors. Spencer Abraham (R-MI), Phil Gramm (R-TX), John Ashcroft (R-MO), Bob Bennett (R-UT), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Mike DeWine (R-OH), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Slade Gorton (R-WA), Bob Graham (D-FL), Rod Grams (R-MN), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Trent Lott (R-MS), Connie Mack (R-FL), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Don Nickles (R-OK), Gordon Smith (R-OR), Arlen Specter (R-PA), and John Warner (R-VA). Additional Cosponsors. Georger Voinovich (R-OH), Jesse Helms (R-NC), and John Edwards (D-NC).

Republicans: 19. Democrats: 4.

Summary. S 2045 IS, the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act, would increase the annual cap on H1B visas to 195,000 for FY 2000, 2001, and 2002.

The bill would also exempt from these numerical caps any H1B visas issued to people employed at an "institution of higher education", or a "related or affiliated nonprofit entity" or "a nonprofit research organization or a governmental research organization" who have recently received a "master's degree or higher degree" from an American university.

Status. This bill was introduced on February 9, 2000, and amended and approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 9, 2000.

Legislative History with Links to Related Materials.


HR 2687, the BRAIN Act.

Sponsor. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) (web site | bio). Original Cosponsors. John Conyers (D-MI), Cal Dooley (D-CA), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Bob Matsui (D-CA), Mike Thompson (D-CA), Sheila Lee (D-TX), Howard Berman (D-CA), Marty Meehan (D-MA), and Ron Kind (D-WI). Additional Cosponsors. Martin Frost (D-TX), Brian Baird (D-WA), David Wu (D-OR), Christopher Shays (R-CT), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Michael Forbes (D-NY).

Democrats: 19. Republicans: 1.
California, Oregon, and Washington: 12. Rest of country: 8.

Summary. HR 2687 IH would not change the law pertaining to H1B visas. Rather it would establish a 5 year pilot program to issue 5 year work visas to certain aliens already in the the U.S. with an F or J student visa. To be eligible the alien must have obtained a post-secondary degree in math, science, engineering, or computer science from an American university in the last 90 days, and have a binding job offer that pays at least $60,000.

Definition of T Category
HR 2687 IH

"(T) subject to section 214(n), an alien who is authorized to change nonimmigrant classification and remain temporarily in the United States to perform services (other than services described in subclause (a) of subparagraph (H)(i) during the period in which such subclause applies, services described in subclause (ii)(a) of subparagraph (H), or services described in subparagraph (0) or (P)) in a special technical occupation described in section 214(n)(2), who meets the requirements for the occupation specified in section 214(n)(3)"

The Lofgren bill would create a new class of nonimmigrant visa -- the T visa. The Immigration and Nationality Act (found at Title 8, Chapter 12 of the U.S. Code) lists and defines the types of nonimmigrant aliens who are granted visas. Section 1101(a)(15) of the Immigration and Nationality Act lists these categories with a letter identifying each category. "A" covers foreign diplomats; "B" covers foreign journalists; and so forth, through the letter "S". "F" is for full time students. "H" is a multipurpose category including various types of skilled workers. (H)(i)(b) is the subcategory now used for many high-tech workers. The Lofgren bill would add yet another category -- the T visa. While it is just coincidental that T is the appropriate nomenclature for the next visa category, Rep. Lofgren points out that is would also be understood as the "Technology visa."

HR 2687 defines the program in extensive technical detail. It would be temporary: five years. Any T visas would last five years. Unlike the H1B visas, there would be no cap on the total number that could be issued each year.

Definition of F Category
8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(15)(F)

"(F)(i) an alien having a residence in a foreign country which he has no intention of abandoning, who is a bona fide student qualified to pursue a full course of study and who seeks to enter the United States temporarily and solely for the purpose of pursuing such a course of study ... at an established college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in a language training program in the United States ... and (ii) the alien spouse and minor children of any such alien if accompanying him or following to join him;"

To receive a T visa the individual would have to meet several criteria. The alien would have to already have either an F or J visa. The alien would have to have received a degree "from an institution of higher education ... inside the United States". The degree would have to have been received in last 90 days. The degree would have to be in mathematics, science, engineering, or computer science. And, the alien would have to have a job offer paying at least $60,000 per year. The statute requires "obtaining a contractual obligation on the part of the employer" for such employment.

Status. This bill was introduced on August 3, 1999.

Legislative History with Links to Related Materials.


HR 2698, New Workers for Economic Growth Act

Sponsor. Rep. David Dreier (R-CA). Original Cosponsors. Tom Davis (R-VA), Jennifer Dunn (R-WA), James Rogan (R-CA). Additional Cosponsors. Ken Calvert (R-CA), Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), Steve Largent (R-OK), Christopher Shays (R-CT).

Summary. HR 2698 IH is the companion bill to S 1440 IS. See summary of S 1440 above. See also, statement by Rep. Dreier submitted at August 5, 1999 House Immigration Subcommittee hearing on H1B visas.

Status. This bill was introduced on August 4, 1999.

Legislative History with Links to Related Materials.

  • 8/4/99. HR 2698 IH introduced in the House.
  • 8/4/99. HR 2698 referred to the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Judiciary Committee.

HR 3508

Sponsor. Rep. David Wu (D-OR). Original Cosponsors. Tom Davis (R-VA) and Pete Stark (D-CA).

Summary. HR 3508 IH ...

Status. This bill was introduced on November 18, 1999.

Legislative History with Links to Related Materials.

  • 11/18/99. HR 3508 IH introduced in the House.
  • 11/18/99. HR 3508 referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
  • 12/1/99. HR 3508 referred to the House Immigration Subcommittee.

HR 3814, Technology Worker Temporary Relief Act.

Sponsor. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). Initial Cosponsors. Tom Campbell (R-CA), Chris Cannon (R-UT), and Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).

Summary. HR 3814 IH would is a modest H1B bill. It would increase the total number of H1B visas for just one year, and only by 45,000, thus making it more limited than many other H1B visa bills that are pending in the Congress. However, its lead sponsor, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), described his proposal as "a bill that can become law."

In addition to the one year increase in visas, the bill contains a multitude of anti-fraud provisions designed to ensure to H1B visas actually go to skilled high tech workers, and not fraudulent applicants. Finally, the bill shifts responsibility for keeping records of issuance of visas to the State Department.

Status. HR 3814 was introduced on March 1, 2000. Rep. Smith subsequently introduced HR 4227; he is moving the later bill.

Legislative History with Links to Related Materials.

  • 3/1/00. HR 3814 IH introduced in the House.
  • 3/1/00. HR 3814 referred to three committees: Judiciary, Science, and Education and the Workforce.
  • 3/10/00. HR 3814 referred to the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration.
  • 3/10/00. HR 3814 referred to the Science Committee's Subcommittee on Basic Research.

HR 3983, Helping to Improve Technology Education and Achievement Act of 2000 (HI-TECH)

Sponsor. Rep. David Dreier (R-CA). Original Cosponsors. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Adam Smith (D-WA), Tom Davis (R-VA), Calvin Dooley (D-CA), Dick Armey (R-TX), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Jennifer Dunn (R-WA), James Moran (D-VA), Mike Oxley (R-OH), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Christopher Shays (R-CT), Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), Pete Sessions (R-TX), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Joe Knollenberg (R-MI), Tim Roemer (D-IN), John Linder (R-GA), Karen McCarthy (D-MO), Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Connie Morella (R-MD). Additional Cosponsors. Phil English (R-PA), Duke Cunningham (R-CA), Bob Matsui (D-CA), Ron Kind (D-WI), Carolyn McCarthy (D-MO), Charles Gonzalez (D-TX), Harold Ford (D-TN), Frank Wolf (R-VA), Amo Houghton (R-NY), Jay Inslee (D-WA), Sue Myrick (R-NC), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Joseph Crowley (D-NY), Steny Hoyer (D-MD), John Peterson (R-PA), John Sununu (R-VT), Bob Etheridge (D-NC), Jerry Weller (R-IL), Judy Biggert (R-IL), Henry Bonilla (R-TX), Robert Wexler (D-FL), Jim Davis (R-FL), Fred Upton (R-MI), Max Sandlin (D-TX), Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), Bud Cramer (D-AL), Charles Rangel (D-NY), Juanita McDonald (D-CA), Norman Dicks (D-WA), Gary Ackerman (D-NY), John Boehner (R-OH), James Greenwood (R-PA), Anne Northup (R-KY), Matt Salmon (R-AZ), Cass Ballenger (R-NC), Mark Udall (D-CO), Thomas Reynolds (R-NY), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), George Nethercutt (R-WA), David McIntosh (R-IN), Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).

Summary. HR 3983 IH would increase the annual caps on H1B visas to 200,000 for FY 2001, 2002, and 2003. In addition, it would require that 10,000 H1B visas go to universities, and 60,000 go to persons holding masters degrees. The bill also addresses the current backlog in H1B applications. It would also permit current H1B visa holders to stay in the U.S. while their green card applications are being processed. The bill increases the filing fee from $500 to $1,000, and targets fees to three education programs.

See also, Rep. Lofgren's summary of HR 3983.

Status. This bill was introduced on March 15, 2000.

Legislative History with Links to Related Materials.

  • 3/15/00. HR 3983 IH introduced in the House. See also, statement in support by Rep. Lofgren.
  • 3/15/00. HR 3983 referred to three committees: Judiciary, Education and the Workforce, and Science.
  • 3/15/00. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) gave a speech in opposition.
  • 5/9/00. During the House Judiciary Committee's mark up of HR 4227, Rep. Lofgren offered an amendment which consisted of the language of HR 3983, as well as her Spousal Equity Act, and provisions pertaining to the immigration status of certain Haitians and Central Americans. It was ruled not germane.

HR 4200, American Worker Information Technology Skills Improvement Act of 2000 (AWITSIA)

Sponsor. Rep. Sheila Lee (D-TX).

Summary. HR 4200 IH  would increase the annual cap on H1B visas to 225,000 for the next three years. However, the bill would do much more. It would raise H1B fees to as much as $3,000. It would create government programs to spend these fees. It would increase Department of Labor enforcement powers.

It would also provide amnesty for certain illegal aliens, and affect the immigration status of certain persons from Haiti and Central America.

Status. HR 4200 was introduced on April 6, 2000.

Legislative History with Links to Related Materials.

  • 4/6/00. HR 4200 IH introduced in the House.

HR 4227 Technology Worker Temporary Relief Act

Sponsor. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). Initial Cosponsors. Tom Campbell (R-CA), and Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).

Summary. HR 4227 IH is Rep. Lamar Smith's second H1B bill. His original bill, HR 3814, introduced on March 1, would have temporarily increased the cap on H1B visas by 45,000. This bill, HR 4227, removes the cap for three years.

Status. This bill was introduced on April 11, 2000, and marked up by the House Immigration Subcommittee on April 12. (The only change pertained to physical therapists.) The full Judiciary Committee marked up the bill on May 9 and

Legislative History with Links to Related Materials.

  • 4/11/00. HR 4227 IH introduced in the House. See, TLJ story.
  • 4/11/00. HR 4227 referred to the House Judiciary Committee, and its Immigration Subcommittee.
  • 4/12/00. HR 4227 marked up by the House Immigration Subcommittee. See, TLJ story.
  • 5/9/00. The House Judiciary Committee began mark up of HR 4227, with a major amendment offered by Rep. Smith and Rep. Lee, and lesser amendments. See also:
      Smith-Lee Amendment (approved).
      Hyde Amendment (approved).
      Lee Amendment (approved).
      TLJ story.
  • 5/10/00. The House Judiciary Committee mark up of HR 4227 was cancelled for lack of a quorum. See, TLJ story.
  • 5/17/00. The House Judiciary Committee approved HR 4227, as amended. See, TLJ story.

Tech Law Journal Stories on Visas for High Tech Workers

1998 Stories.

1999 Stories.

2000 Stories.

 

Related Bills
HR 2662 -- The Spousal Equity Act

There is another bill pending in the House which does not pertain to H1B visas, but which does affect some high tech workers, and their spouses. The bill is HR 2662, the Spousal Equity Act, introduced on July 30, 1999 by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). The bill would allow the spouses of intra-company transferees to work in the United States only if the home country of the foreign national allows U.S. citizens the same benefit. Some of the same companies which have supported H1B reform are now supporting HR 2662.

The bill provides specifically that:

    Section 214(c)(2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1184(c)(2)) is amended by adding at the end the following:

    `(E) In the case of an alien spouse admitted under section 101(a)(15)(L), who is accompanying or following to join a principal alien admitted under such section, the Attorney General shall authorize the alien spouse to engage in employment in the United States and provide the spouse with an `employment authorized' endorsement or other appropriate work permit, if the foreign state of which the principal alien is a citizen or national has entered into an agreement with the United States under which it agrees to extend reciprocal treatment to citizens and nationals of the United States.'.

HR 1774

This is a bill to not count work experience as an unauthorized alien for purposes of admission as an employment-based immigrant or an H1B nonimmigrant.


 

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