H1B Visa Bill Held Up By Clinton's Veto Threat

(August 12, 1998)  The H1B bill to increase the annual cap on temporary visas for foreign born high tech workers has stalled in the Congress because President Clinton threatens to veto the bill.  The current annual limit of 65,000 was exhausted as of May 8.

The Senate bill, the "American Competitiveness Act," S 1723, sponsored by Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-MI), passed by a 78-20 vote on May 18.

The House bill, HR 3736, the "Workforce Improvement and Protection Act of 1998," sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), was reported by the House Judiciary Committee in late July.   It had been held up by differences over provisions containing protections for American workers.  Members of the House, and President Clinton, wanted a bill with more worker protections.

A copy of the 34 page compromise bill is in Sen. Abraham's website in PDF format.
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On July 23 House and Senate leaders negotiated a compromise.  Sen. Abraham stated at that time that "I believe the agreement also meets the goals outlined by the White House last week. I am sure that the White House wants to help, rather than hinder, the high tech sector of our economy, and this bill provides critical assistance."

The compromise bill would make another 20,000 visas available for the remainder of 1998.  The cap would be set at 95,000 in 1999, 105,000 in 2000, and 115,000 for 2001 and 2002.  It would revert to 65,000 thereafter.

Sen. Abraham issued a description of the compromise bill's layoff protection for American workers.

"The bill provides three types of layoff protection for American workers. 1) A company that is H-1B dependent (defined as having a workforce of 15% or more H-1Bs) must attest that it will not layoff an American employee in the same job 90 days before or after the filing a petition for an H-1B professional. 2) An H-1B dependent company must attest that it will not place an H-1B professional in another company to fill the same job held by a laid off American. 3) If a U.S. employer commits a willful violation and underpays an individual on an H-1B visa and replaces an American worker, that employer will be hit with a 2-year debarment from all employment immigration programs and be slapped with a $25,000 fine per violation. This 3rd provision applies to all employers, regardless of their level of H-1B usage."

House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) scheduled the bill for floor action on July 31.  However, he withdrew the bill when Bill Clinton threatened to veto it.  It was scheduled again for the following week, but withdrawn again, because of Clinton's continuing veto threat.

"It is shocking to see an Administration devoted to building a bridge to the 21st century, pull the rug out from under our most future-oriented industries," Rep. Armey said after the veto threat.  "Once again, it is choosing the Big Labor politics of the past over the vibrant, entrepreneurial model of the future."

Rep. Armey continued that "The US economy is flourishing in the face of international financial troubles, largely because of the enormous productivity gains created by the innovations of our high-tech industries. The impact of computer advances can't be understated: they range from more efficient financial transactions to assembly lines that run better and even home appliances that operate more simply. Keeping America on the cutting edge of technology development is crucial to continuing to improve living standards for every family."

"The bridge to the 21st century will be built with ideas, creativity, entrepreneurship, and technology. When the Administration bows to the raw politics of Big Labor, it bows to the past at the expense of America's future," concluded Armey.

"Unfortunately, this is the standard pattern for the Clinton Administration," said Rep. Rick White (R-WA), co-chair of the Congressional Internet Caucus. "They talk about the importance of technology to the economy, but when it comes time to act they keep shifting positions and slowing things down. Whether the issue is visas, encryption, or protecting children on the Internet, Bill Clinton and Al Gore give us lots of talk and no action."

"The President says he wants to help Congress solve this problem, but then he keeps changing the rules. At the end of the day, the only conclusion we can draw is that he's responding to political pressure instead of the needs of our country," said White. "It's very frustrating trying to work with this administration on important technology policy when they keep shifting positions based on politics."

Rep. White represents a Puget Sound area district where high technology companies face a critical shortage of qualified scientists and engineers.

Both the House and Senate are away for the August recess.

See also, Summary of H1B Bills.