What Congress has yet to agree on, however, is exactly how to implement an increase in the number of H-1B visas available.
Finally, Congress is in unanimous agreement that America needs professional workers to sustain the economic growth we have been enjoying for the past five years. Both Republicans and Democrats also agree that the H-1B program is the vehicle to fill the shortage of professional workers. What Congress has yet to agree on, however, is exactly how to implement an increase in the number of H-1B visas available. This month key Congressional members are expected to resolve their differences and pass a cohesive bill that will vastly increase the number of H-1Bs available for the current and next few years.
On February 9, 2000, prominent Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Spencer Abraham (R-MI) introduced the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act, S. 2045. This bill will raise the cap to 195,000 for FYs 2000, 2001 and 2002. Additionally, S. 2045 will exempt employees of governmental and higher educational institutions from the cap as well as holders of Masters degrees or higher from U.S. schools. This bill enjoys strong bipartisan support in the Senate, and likely, any H-1B cap legislation will contain substantial contributions from S.2045.
In the meantime, H.R. 3983, introduced by California Representatives David Drier and Zoe Lofgren, proposes to increase the number of H-1B visas available to 200,000 for FYs 2001, 2002 and 2003. This bill reserves 10,000 visas for certain employees of governmental, non-profit and higher educational institutions, and an additional 60,000 visas for holders of Master’s degrees or higher. On the negative side, H.R. 3983 increases the H-1B filing fee from $500.00 to $1000.00. The Dreier-Lofgren Bill shares many similarities with S. 2045, such that important components of the bill should be assimilated into any final H-1B legislation.
Even archconservative immigration legislator Lamar Smith has sponsored a bill proposing to raise the H-1B cap to 145,000 from its current 115,000. Smith’s bill, however, contains many restrictive provisions that would inhibit rather than enhance U.S. employers’ ability to fill professional positions with H-1B workers. Hopefully, the voice of reason will win the day, and Smith’s bill will be overshadowed by S. 2045 and H.R. 3983.
Ultimately, economics will influence Congressional members to increase the H-1B cap. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan has made his endorsement of an H-1B increase clear to the Senate. This should be just the impetus Congress needed to finally resolve the H-1B crisis. As we all know, when Mr. Greenspan talks, people listen.