A push to import workers

America's H-1B visa program was established to allow companies to bring in foreign workers when no equivalently skilled domestic labor could be found to fill highly specialized positions.

The visas are given for a three-year period, and are renewable only once, for another three years.

Because of a national labor shortage within the high-tech industry, information-technology (IT) executives have lobbied for increases in the number of annual H-1Bs. Congressional approval looks likely. (See story, page 13.)

In fiscal year 1999, allowance was made for 115,000 H-1Bs. Owing to an INS error, that number was exceeded by nearly 22,000 visas.

"At least into the foreseeable future, there's going to be a dramatic shortage of IT workers ... [Ultimately], the main solution has to come from US workers," says Harris Miller of the Information Technology Association of America, which supports H-1B increases. "But in the meantime, if we don't allow in sufficient numbers of highly skilled workers, we're going to lose our global competitive advantage as a country."

But groups including the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers have stressed that the IT industry is too quick to import temporary foreign labor, often at lower wages, and is not dedicating the necessary resources into training and recruitment efforts to find workers here in the US.

The Immigration Reform Coalition (IRC), a pro-immigration group that formed last fall, opposes the H-1B program, claiming that many highly skilled, temporary foreign workers end up wanting to stay in the US permanently, and must currently wade through a difficult paper trail to attain legal residency.

These workers and their families should be granted green cards, says Paul Donnelly, an IRC spokesman. Because a worker is tied to one company as a condition of the visa, Mr. Donnelly likens H-1Bs to a form of indentured servitude. "We are a land of immigrants, not a land of guest workers," he says.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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