Sen. Gramm Introduces Bill to Increase H1B Visa Cap

(August 4, 1999) Sen. Phil Gramm introduced S 1440, the New Workers for Economic Growth Act, on July 27. The bill would increase the annual cap on H1B visas to 200,000 for the years 2000, 2001, and 2002. It would also 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.

Related Pages
Summary of Bills Pertaining to H1B Visas in the 106th Congress.
Summary of Bills Pertaining to H1B Visas in the 105th Congress.
S 1440 IS, the New Workers for Economic Growth Act.
Statement by Sen. Gramm, 7/27/99.

S 1440 IS, the New Workers for Economic Growth Act, is sponsored by Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX), and cosponsored by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Sen. Gramm said in a statement 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."

"With record low unemployment, many U.S. companies have been forced to slow their expansion, or cancel projects, and may be forced to move their operations overseas because of an inability to find qualified individuals to fill job vacancies," said Sen. Gramm. "We will achieve our full economic potential only if we ensure that high-technology companies can find and hire the people whose unique qualifications and specialized skills are critical to America's future success."

Late last year, the Congress increased the number of H1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000 for fiscal years 1999 and 2000, and to 107,500 for 2001. S 1440 would increase the H1B visa cap to 200,000 for fiscal years 2000, 2001 and 2002.

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Sen. Gramm

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."

S 1440 would also exempt from the annual limit on H1B visas any visa issued to a person who has "attained a master's degree or higher degree (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 ... 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 ..."

The annual cap of 115,000 visas for 1999 was reached about midway through the year. High tech companies, such as Texas Instruments, 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. In fact, twin proposals contained in S 1440 mirror closely reforms advocated by McTeer which were published in the 1998 Annual Report of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on May 20.

In a related matter, the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration is scheduled to hold an oversight hearing into H1B visa fraud on Thursday, August 5. The subcommittee is investigating, among other things, whether many of the H1B visas are issued to unqualified persons. The hearing will be at 1:00 PM ET in Room 2237 of the Rayburn Building.

Related Stories
House Subcommittee Hearing on H1B Fraud, 5/6/99.
Rep. Smith Urges INS To Fight H1B Fraud, 5/28/99.
Gramm to Introduce Bill to Raise H1B Cap, 6/3/99.

In another visa matter, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced a bill on Friday, July 30, that is designed to promote reciprocal agreements between the U.S. and other nations regarding the issuance of work visas spouses.

HR 2662, the Spousal Equity Act, 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 visa reform are now supporting HR 2662.

HR 2662 provides 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.'.

"American companies are sending more and more American personnel overseas to open new markets and expand investment. American men and women at all levels are being offered international job opportunities unheard of even a few years ago. Unfortunately, many workers are hesitant to take these opportunities because their spouses will not be able to continue their careers abroad," said Rep. Lofgren in a press release. "The bill is narrowly tailored to address this concern of American businesses and dual-career couples."