Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Amended H1B Bill

(April 2, 1998)  The Senate Judiciary Committee today approved a substitute version of S 1723, Sen. Abraham's H1B bill, by a vote of 14 to 6.  The Committee first rejected S 1878, an alternative bill offered by Sen. Kennedy and Sen. Feinstein.  S 1723 will likely be taken up by the Senate soon after it returns from its Spring recess.  These bill address the shortage of high tech workers.

The substitute bill approved by the Committee contains several significant changes from the version that was introduced in the Senate a month ago.  The increase in the H1B visa cap now has a 5 year sunset provision.  The increase in the H1B cap now has a hard figure of 95,000 for FY 1999.

Related Pages: S 1723 Substitute S 1723 S 1878

The bill was debated for over an hour.  Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-MI) spoke on behalf of his new bill, while Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Diane Feinstein (D-CA) pleaded for theirs.  Feinstein worried that the H1B visa program has become "a backdoor immigration program, because fifty percent of the people who come in under (H1B) remain".

Related Page: Relevant Sections Current Visa Law.

The Committee discussed why there was a shortage of IT professionals.  "We need to find out why these needs continue to exist," said Sen. Kyl (R-AZ).  "Some folks say we just can't educate kids for these jobs."   Feinstein opined that "this program is an indictment of our education system."

How S 1723 Would Increase the Supply of High Tech Workers.

There is now a 65,000 annual cap on H1B visas, which go to aliens "temporarily to the U.S. to perform services ... in a specialty occupation ... that requires theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and attainment of a bachelor's or higher degree in that specialty."  Now, many of the H1B visas go to high tech professionals and health care professionals, especially physical therapists.   The bill approved April 2 by the Committee would:

  • Split off health care workers into their own category, H1C, thus allowing a higher percentage of H1B visas to go to the computer industry.  (10,000 cap.)
  • Increase the number of H1B visas for five years.  (From the current 65,000 to 95,000 in FY 1998.)
  • Allow up to 20,000 unused H2B visas to go to H1B applicants.

Thus, there is a potential increase of 60,000 visas going to computer industry professionals.

Both S 1723 and S 1878 contain authorization or funding for education and training.  However, how much money would actually end up educating people under either bill would be uncertain.  Sen. Kennedy touted his bill, saying that it had $100 Million for training which will be funded out of employer fees for H1B applications.   "The Abraham bill, on the other hand, relies on taxpayer funding for such training, and must compete for funds in the regular appropriations process," he said.   Yet, the Kennedy bill sets the maximum fee at $250 and the H1B cap at 90,000, thus resulting in maximum funding of only $22.5 Million, not including revenues from fines and penalties on employers.

Abraham's bill authorizes money to be spent on scholarships.  However, there is no money appropriated, or any tax created, for this purpose.  Sen. Abraham said that he did not do so, in part because that would have given an additional Senate committee jurisdiction over the bill.

The Committee first voted on the Kennedy - Feinstein bill.  It failed in a straight party-line vote of 10 to 8.  The Committee then voted on the Abraham substitute bill.  It passed 14 to 6, with two Democrats joining to support: Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Herb Kohl (D-WI).   Senators Leahy (D-VT), Biden (D-DE),  Durbin, Feingold (D-WI), Kennedy (D-MA), and Torricelli (D-NJ) voted no.  All of the Republicans on the committee voted for the Abraham bill: Hatch (R-UT), Abraham (R-MI), Ashcroft (R-MO), DeWine (R-OH), Grassley (R-IA), Kyl (R-AZ), Sessions, Specter (R-PA), Thompson (R-TN), and Thurmond (R-SC).  Several Senators voted by proxy.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, presided at the hearing.  Sen. Patrick Leahy is the Ranking Minority Member of the Committee.  Sen. Abraham is Chairman of the Immigration Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee. Lee Lieberman Otis, Counsel to the Immigration Subcommittee, is Sen. Abraham's primary staff assistant on this issue. 

Summary Table: Comparison of H1B Bills


S 1723 Substitute

S 1723 IS

S 1878

Increase in H1B Cap
(Currently 65,000)
FY 1988 - 95,000.
FY 1999 - formula.
FY 2000-2002 - formula.
Complex formula which would likely add about 25,000.  Increase from 65,000 to 90,000.
Creation of H1C visa category for health workers Yes. Cap of 10,000. Yes. Cap of 10,000. No.
Unused H2B visas Up to 20,000 could be used by H1B applicants. Up to 25,000 could be used by H1B applicants. No.
Duration of H1B Cap Increase 5 years (FY 1998 - 2003), then reverts back to 65,000 Permanent. 3 years (FY 1998 - 2000), then  reverts back to 65,000.
Duration of H1B Visas
(Currently 6 years)
6 years. 6 years. 3 years.
Education and Training Authorizes $50 Million for SSIG for scholarships for low income students pursuing college or graduate degrees in math, engineering, or computer science; and $10 Million to train unemployed U.S. workers in IT fields. Authorizes $50 Million to be spent on scholarships for full time students pursuing college or post-graduate degrees in mathematics, engineering, or computer science.  Create a $90 Million general education and training loan program, and   a $10 Million grant program for entities, funded out of H1B visa fees and fines.