Senate Holds Hearings on H1B Visas

(February 25, 1998.)  Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony today in a packed hearing room on the current annual cap of 65,000 on the number of temporary visas allowed for highly skilled foreign born professionals.  In 1997 the cap was reached for the first time in history.  It may be reached by May of this year.  High tech companies desperate for skilled computer professionals are clamoring for reform.

Senator Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration, plans to introduce legislation to increase the cap.  "American companies today are engaged in  fierce competition in global markets.  To win that competition they must win the battle for human capital.   However, companies across America are faced with severe high-tech labor shortages that threaten their competitiveness in this new Information Age economy", said Abraham in a statement prepared for the hearing.

According to Ken Alvarez, a VP from Sun Microsystems, "This deficit of skilled workers, if not remedied quickly, will result in lost business opportunities, slower innovation, and diminished productivity overall.   Those developments would seriously hinder our ability to compete, and the high tech industry's ability to continue the sort of rapid creation of jobs this country has benefited from.  Ultimately, a prolonged worker shortage could cause U.S. high tech companies to lose their dominant position in the world market."

According to T.J. Rodgers, President and CEO of Cypress Semiconductor Corp., "The need for skilled workers in the high-tech sector is growing exponentially, causing chronic shortages."

Similarly, Michael Murray, Microsoft Corp. VP for Human Resources and Administration, submitted that "the lifeblood of our industry is not capital equipment, but human capital."  He projects that "the demand for H-1B workers is expected to more than double to 142,041 by FY 2001.

Microsoft wants the Congress to:

Opposition to Increasing the Cap

However, not everyone is anxious to raise the cap on H1-B visas.  While H1-B visas pertain to "temporary workers" rather than "immigrants", many legislators are afraid to do anything that smacks of increasing immigration.

Moreover, some groups which represent American high tech workers, such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, are skeptical about the shortage.  John Reinhart, President of IEEE, in a prepared statement for the hearing, stated that "the supply of workers with knowledge, skills, aptitudes and interests available to help meet the demands is much broader and deeper than is generally assumed."

Reinhart also asserted that the H1-B program "has been widely used by many employers to provide a probationary, try-out employment program for illegal (out of status) aliens, foreign students and foreign visitors to determine if they should be sponsored for permanent resident status."   (parentheses in original)

Copies of Witness Statements

The Senate Judiciary Committee placed the prepared statements of the following witnesses online after the hearing: