Press Release from Senator Abraham.
Re: H1-B Visa Bill.

Date: March 3, 1998.
Source: Office of Sen. Abraham.  This document has been edited for html and spacing, but not for content.

Senator Abraham Introduces
The American Competitiveness Act

Bill Increases Visas for Skilled Immigrants and
Authorizes Funds for Science Education

(WASHINGTON) U.S. Senator Spencer Abraham (R- Michigan), Chairman of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee, today announced legislation to make America more competitive in the global economy by increasing the number of temporary visas for skilled immigrants and increase funding for science and technology education.

"The American Competitiveness Act will help U.S. companies to remain competitive in global markets and to expand educational and training opportunities for American students and workers," Abraham said. "The legislation will increase the number of skilled temporary workers we allow into the United States and create 20,000 new scholarships a year for low-income students to study math, engineering, and computer science in our colleges and universities. A key goal of the bill is to keep American companies in this country, saving -- and creating -- American jobs and contributing to the growth of the U.S. economy."

Abraham explained there is an urgent need to address the problem legislatively. "The rapid pace of innovation and growth of technology, combined with record low unemployment in many areas, has created an untenable situation -- America's leading high tech companies, the engine of much of the nation's growth, cannot find enough skilled workers," he said. "Unless addressed, this gap threatens to drive many of their key facilities offshore. The Hudson Institute estimates that the unaddressed shortage of skilled workers throughout our economy will result in a 5 percent drop in the growth rate of GDP. That translates into about $200 billion in lost output, nearly $1,000 for every American. "

The National Software Alliance, a consortium of concerned government, industry, and academic leaders that includes the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force concludes that the current severe understaffing could lead to inflation and lower productivity, and threaten America's competitiveness. The Department of Labor's figures project that our economy will produce more than 130,000 information technology jobs in each of the next 10 years, for a total of more than 1.3 million. But the data also suggest our universities will produce less than a quarter of the necessary number of information technology graduates over the next 10 years. A Virginia Tech study conducted for the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) estimates that there are more than 340,000 highly skilled positions going unfilled in U.S. companies.

"High tech firms view this as a crisis, with more than 70 percent identifying it as the leading barrier to their companies' growth and competitiveness in global markets," Abraham said.

This year a related crisis will occur perhaps as early as May when the nation's businesses and universities reach the cap of 65,000 imposed on H-1B visas for highly skilled foreign-born professionals. H-1B temporary visas are valid for 6 years. These nonimmigrants cannot stay permanently unless sponsored by an employer and, generally speaking, undergoing a long procedure for an employment-based immigrant visa. Individuals on H-1B visas cannot be paid less than the prevailing or average wage in that occupation for that geographic area.

Last year, the cap of 65,000 was hit at the end of August, causing disruption. It is expected to be reached in May this year. With the backlogs that will occur, the cap will be hit earlier each year, until, practically speaking, companies can no longer count on an ability to hire any nonimmigrant professionals. The cap of 65,000 was chosen arbitrarily in the 1990 Immigration Act, and since that time the U.S. economy and workforce has increased substantially, while the cap has remained unchanged.

"Through wise investments in human capital we can give American students of all backgrounds, including kids whose opportunities seem severely limited, the chance to be part of the new high-tech economy," Abraham said. "The legislation would give us time to formulate a long-term solution, allowing us to produce more of the domestic talent we need to keep our industries competitive and here in America. The question is not: Do we allow more skilled professionals to enter the country or do we help native-born students pursue these fields? Clearly we must do both. And this is the approach taken by the American Competitiveness Act," he said.

The American Competitiveness Act will:

Increase Access to Skilled Personnel for U.S. Companies and Universities.
The bill will make approximately 25,000 more H-1B temporary visas available in 1998. A key goal of the legislation is to make sure there are enough visas this year to avoid backlogs and major disruptions. For that reason, the 1998 cap will be twice the level of the first 6 months of this fiscal year (through March 31, 1998), which, based on current INS data, would give a 12-month total of about 90,000 visas for the year. As a safety valve, if that total is insufficient in a future year, as of FY 1999, other temporary visas that Congress has already authorized (H-2B visas), if they went unused in the previous year, would be available. No more 25,000 of these H-2B visas could be made available as a safety valve in a given year. The bill would also remove physical/occupational therapists and other specialized health care workers from the H-1B program and place them into a new temporary visa category called H-1C, with a limit of 10,000 placed on such visas. These 10,000 visas will be subtracted from the new H-1B cap starting in 1999. The bill would not alter the employment-based immigration cap of 140,000 on the number of foreign-born professionals who may remain permanently in the country.

Create 20,000 New College Scholarships Annually for Low-Income Students in Math, Engineering, and Computer Science
The bill authorizes $50 million for the State Student Incentive Grant (SSIG) program to create approximately 20,000 scholarships a year for low-income students pursuing an associate, undergraduate, or graduate level degree in mathematics, engineering, and computer science. The program provides dollar-for-dollar federal matching funds, that will grow to $100 million with state matching. The scholarships will be up to $5,000 each.

Increase Training and Job Support for the Unemployed
The bill authorizes $10 million a year to train unemployed U.S. workers in new skills for the information technology industry. The bill also authorizes $8 million for improved online talent banks to facilitate job searches and the matching of skills in high technology.

Toughen Enforcement Penalties and Improve Operation of the H-1B Program
The bill increases fines by five-fold for willful violators of the H-1B program, from the current $1,000 to $5,000. The bill adds new enforcement power by creating probationary periods of up to five years for willful violators of the H-1B program. During the probationary period, such firms are subject to expanded Department of Labor "spot inspections" at the agency's discretion. The bill also includes reforms to achieve greater accuracy in determining prevailing wages for companies and universities.

Eliminate Discrimination in Employment Visas
Modifies per-country limit on employment-based visas to address discriminatory effects of current treatment of employment-based immigrants on nationals from certain Asian Pacific nations.

Aids Higher Education, Charities, and Other Non-Profit Organizations
In addition to allowing American universities and other non-profits increased access to skilled personnel, the bill overturns the Hathaway Decision by requiring the Department of Labor to permit prevailing wage calculations for universities, charities, and other non-profit organizations to be differentiated from those of for-profit entities.