Lamar Smith Introduces H1B Visa Bill

(March 1, 2000) Rep. Lamar Smith introduced an H1B visa bill that would provide a one year increase of 45,000 visas, increase anti-fraud efforts, provide for fast track issuance of some visas, increase education funding, and redirect all such funding to merit based scholarships in high tech disciplines.

Related Pages
Technology Worker Temporary Relief Act.
Rep. Smith's Summary.
Statement by Rep. Smith.
Tech Law Journal Summary of Bills Pertaining to Visas for High Tech Workers.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the Chairman of the House Immigration Subcommittee, and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), a Co-Chairman of the Internet Caucus, announced the introduction of HR 3814, the Technology Worker Temporary Relief Act, at a press conference in the Capitol Building on Wednesday, March 1.

The bill 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, Rep. Smith 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. Rep. Smith's Subcommittee held a hearing in May of 1999 which heard testimony, and received evidence, that the Immigration and Naturalization Service has issued H1B visas to fraudulent applicants.

Related Stories
House Immigration Subcommittee Holds Hearing on H1B Visa Fraud, 5/6/99.
Lamar Smith Urges INS to Fight H1B Visa Fraud, 5/28/99.
Immigration Subcommittee Examines H1B Visas, 8/8/99.

The bill also provides that "Records with respect to the issuance of visas ... shall be maintained in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Secretary of State." The same hearing also revealed that the Immigration and Naturalization Service was unable to accurately account for how many H1B visas it had issued.

Rep. Smith explained his analysis behind a one year 45,000 increase. "The year 2000 increase in these visas is necessary to address the 1999 "bubble" in foreign worker visa applications. The increased quota for this year will be large enough to absorb those aliens who had been approved for H-1B status late in 1999 after that year’s cap was reached-the "bubble"-plus the number of aliens mistakenly granted visas by the INS above the 1999 cap."

He continued that "The number of visas available in 2000 and 2001 will be sufficient to meet demand, since even at last year’s peak, the INS only approved about 9,000 H-1B visas per month, or 108,000 on an annual basis."

Rep. Lamar
Smith (R-TX)

While Rep. Smith wants a temporary increase, he does not share the view of many in the high tech industry that there is a serious and long term shortage of high tech workers. Rep. Smith stated that "There is no credible or objective study documenting the high-tech labor shortage."

And while many boosters of other H1B bills emphasize the harm to the high tech economy of a shortage of skilled workers, Rep. Smith talks about the interests of American workers.

For example, he stated that "American information technology workers are concerned about their future job prospects. Too often, industry considers them expendable by the age of 30, and too expensive to retrain when cheaper foreign workers on H-1B visas are readily available. Sometimes they have seen their colleagues laid off and replaced by these foreign workers. The unemployment rate for computer programmers over 50 years old is 17 percent."

The other original cosponsors of the bill are Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT) and Rep. Tom Campbell (R-CA). Neither attended the press conference on Wednesday.

The Smith bill contains a number of anti-fraud provisions:

The bill also provides for educating high tech workers. The H1B visa bill enacted in late 1998 authorized money for education, but this was for the Job Training Partnership Act program. Rep. Smith's bill would increase the fee for H1B visas from $500 to $1,000, and redirect the funds to merit based scholarships for "bachelor's or graduate degree with an academic major in computer science, computer programming, information sciences, systems analysis, computer engineering, electrical engineering, electronics engineering, or electronic commerce."

Rep. Smith was asked about his timetable for the bill. He responded that "it is conceivable that we could move forward as soon as next month."

Rep. Goodlatte also spoke at the press conference. "We are at risk of losing employment opportunities," said Rep. Goodlatte, "because there is a certain threshold that companies engaged in the creation of software and Internet businesses and so on will say, we don't have the necessary talent here, we are going to go to countries where that talent is available."

A reporter challenged Rep. Goodlatte on this point, stating that Northern Virginia companies are not moving away. Rep. Goodlatte responded that some non high tech companies contract their computer work out to foreign countries, and that many high tech companies also have foreign operations.