The U.S. Senate has proposed doubling the number of H-1B work visas. While begged for by the high-tech sector, the proposal has drawn ire from unions.
The U.S. high-tech industry has jobs to provide, but it is not convinced that it has good candidates to fill them. It was in response to this demand that the eight senators on the panel for immigration reform proposed doubling the number of visas issued to foreign graduates. They are supposed to present a plan to that effect in the next couple of weeks.
According to the panel, engineers who have studied at American universities will be offered a permanent visa — a green card — rather than a temporary visa, as is currently the case. “Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens …. But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us,” Barack Obama recently stated. Furthermore, science industries are underdeveloped to respond to the demands of companies. While overall unemployment remains high at 7.7 percent nationally, the unemployment rate of engineers is 3 percent, which indicates nearly full employment.
However, according to a recent study published by Georgetown University, the difficulties faced by U.S. companies in filling their tech jobs will not improve. In the next 10 years, 775,000 engineering jobs should be created. If the current trend continues, only two-thirds of these could be filled by Americans. The option of resorting to foreign engineers remains heavily restricted: H-1B guidelines limit 65,000 visas per year, a level deemed ridiculously low by Silicon Valley and New York companies. The limit has not been raised since 1990 and since then American growth has tripled. The Department of State has only allowed two exceptions — in 1999 and 2001 — to assist the incredible expansion of the high-tech sector. But the quota has been returned to the level of 20 years ago. With the coming reform, the number of visas may reach something close to 120,000 annually.
A Very Active Lobby
The bill, however, is far from being adopted. It still must pass the filter of Congress. It also provokes the wrath of unions, who figure it will only be detrimental to Americans and will push salaries down. Accusing lawmakers of being manipulated by Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and others, they offer a reminder that the high-tech lobby is one of the most powerful in the country — with some $132 million spent last year, it amounts to the fourth most active lobby in Washington.