Sen. Gramm to Introduce Bill to Raise H1B Visa Cap

(June 3, 1999) Sen. Phil Gramm announced at an event at Texas Instruments in Dallas that he will introduce legislation to increase the annual cap on H-1B visas. Late last year Congress temporarily increased the annual cap on these visas which enable high-tech U.S. companies to hire highly skilled foreign nationals. However, the INS is on track to fill the 1999 quota sometime this month.

Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX) spoke on Tuesday morning, June 1, at the Kilby Center, at the Texas Instruments complex in Dallas. He was joined by Tom Engibous, President and CEO of Texas Instruments, Bob McTeer, President and CEO of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank. Representatives of Dallas Semiconductor and Alcatel also participated.

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Sen. Gramm

"Expanding Texas' high-tech industry will create jobs, growth and opportunity for all Texans," said Sen. Gramm in a press release. "But we'll only achieve our full potential if we assure that high-tech companies can find and hire the rare people whose specialized skills are critical to America's success."

Late last year Congress expanded the annual cap on H-1B visas because of a shortage of high-tech professionals in the computer industry. The bill increased the number of H1B temporary worker visas from 65,000 to 115,000 in 1999, 115,000 in 2000 and 107,500 in 2001. The visa limit is set to return to 65,000 in 2002.

"The bill would greatly benefit the high-tech industry's anticipated continuing growth," said Gay Vencill, Director of Human Resources for Dallas Semiconductor. "Since 1990, technology companies throughout the United States have created more than a million new jobs. More than a third of these have been added in Texas. With this kind of growth, our need for technology specialists could mushroom far beyond projections for U.S. engineering graduates."

TI's Tom Engibous stated in his address at the event that "the issue is our workforce; and high tech is dependent on highly skilled professionals to continue the development of technology, which in turn fuels economic growth."

"The chip's value comes not from sand, but from the inspiration of the design engineer who conceives it, the ingenuity of the process engineer who develops a cost effective production process and the skill of the technician who makes the product a reality," said Engibous. "But at a time when we need skilled employees more than ever, we're having difficult time finding enough of them. We're trying everything."

"Our situation is urgent - our needs immediate. The American Electronics Association says that 33 percent of U.S. Masters degrees and 47 percent of Doctors degrees in Electrical Engineering were conferred on foreign nationals," said Engibous. "In short, foreign nationals make up a large portion of our hiring pool. Access to U.S. trained-foreign nationals is key to the health of our U.S.-based operations."

Tech Law Journal also spoke with Steve Leven, SVP of Human Resources at Texas Instruments. Leven stated that "I have a large number of applications of people graduating from U.S. universities," who Texas Instruments "cannot put to work without an H1B visa."

Leven described the people who they want to hire under the H-1B visa program. "Almost exclusively it is people who come out of U.S. universities" and "often graduate programs." Moreover, "almost all are electrical engineers," said Leven, who are involved "in the design and manufacture of semiconductor chips."

Leven stated that if the annual cap not increased, "it will delay our hiring of people we need. It will slow down our ability to develop as many new products as we otherwise could."

Tom Engibous also stated in his address that "Last year TI joined other companies in asking Congress to raise the cap on the H-1B visa, to allow us to hire key skilled professionals coming from U.S. schools and from abroad. Congress responded with a vital but limited increase. This helped tremendously."

"But now, months away from the end of the government fiscal year, we are within days of reaching the cap on the H-1B visa," said Engibous. "We believe the answer to this problem is a fundamental reworking of the employment-based immigration system. This includes both the temporary visa and permanent immigration programs. As part of this effort we ask Congress to fight for American industry and raise the cap on the H-1B visa ..."

Part of the impetus for Sen. Gramm's initiative comes from the President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Bob McTeer. He wrote a letter in the Dallas Fed's 1998 annual report which discussed the phenomenal success of the U.S. economy in recent years, and what is needed to sustain the growth. McTeer, who is also an economist, advocated changing the immigration rules for highly skilled workers.

Excerpts from the
Letter of Bob McTeer
in the 1998 Annual Report of the
Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

We do face some unpleasant employment arithmetic. The past three years have benefited from growth in both productivity (more output per hour worked) and the labor supply (more hours worked). Declining unemployment during those years means we were drawing down the available labor pool. With unemployment at 4.3 percent, with labor-force participation over 67 percent and discouraged workers (people who'd like a job if they thought it possible) at a record low, we may finally run out of slack in the labor market. If so, productivity will have to increase even faster for the recent growth rate to continue. ...

Congress could help make my optimistic scenario a reality by taking two easy steps to bolster our workforce. ... My other suggestion is to ease limits on immigration of foreign workers with the education and skills to be productive immediately. We need more good people. While we're at full employment is the time to do it."

He followed this up with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on May 20. He wrote that "to keep the economy growing at its recent pace, we must draw more people into the work force." To do this we should "change our current immigration policy, which hampers growth by making it difficult for foreigners with valuable skills and training to work in this country."

He wrote that "we should raise the H1-B limit further to at least 200,000 and make the increase permanent. The U.S. cannot afford to let a lack of workers take the steam out of its remarkable economic expansion."

Sen. Gramm has not yet filed his bill, or released a draft or summary. However, according to TI and the AEA, it would increase the annual cap to 200,000 per year.

No other Members of Congress participated in the event at Texas Instruments.

There is a also a second issue regarding H-1B. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the Chairman of the House Immigration Subcommittee, is concerned that many H-1B visas are going to unqualified applicants who receive their visas fraudulently. This would decrease the number of visas available for highly skilled high-tech workers.

The Immigration Subcommittee held a hearing on this issue on May 5. Rep. Smith wrote a letter to INS Commissioner Doris Meissner on May 26 regarding the problem. (See, TLJ article, and copy of letter.)

This issue was not discussed at the June 1 event at Texas Instruments. However, Steve Leven, of Texas Instruments told Tech Law Journal that "I have not been able to get facts as to who has gotten the H1B visas." He added that "I have not been able to get facts on what skills and occupations the people had."


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