Congress has failed to act on important H-1B legislation pending since late last year when it became apparent that H-1B numbers would run out well in advance of the end of FY 2000. While many considered legislative relief a given, a partisan struggle has caused tow H-1B bills to stall in their tracks. Now, it appears unlikely that any additional H-1B numbers will become available before October 1, 2000, which marks the beginning of FY 2001.
The most popular H-1B bill, S. 2045, proposes to raise the cap on H-1B visas to 195,000 for this and the next two years. The Bill, introduced by Senators Orrin Hatch and Spencer Abraham, enjoys the broadest support of all the recently introduced H-1B legislation. The Senate Bill, however, has is facing formidable opposition from conservative Congressmen in the house, such as Lamar Smith, whose HR 4227 is the top contender among all H-1B legislation.
Although Congress increased the limit on the total number of H-1Bs allowed from 65,000 to 115,000 last year, recent INS correspondence indicates that visas will again be exhausted well in advance of the end of the fiscal year. Following a year marked by the introduction of various proposals to increase the number of visas available to high-tech and other skilled workers, most Congress people have committed themselves along party lines to either S. 2045 or HR 4227.
Republicans and Democrats are jockeying for position in courting the high-tech industry’s support, which would garner potentially millions in campaign contributions for the election year. The Smith Bill, because of its many restrictions, may lose ground to HR 3983, an H-1B bill introduced by Congressmen David Dreier (R-CA) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). With the industry’s support, the best case scenario is that either S. 2045, HR 3983, or some combination of the two, will be the final result of the ongoing H-1B debate.
While Smith’s bill proposes to raise the number of H-1B visas modestly, it suffers from shortsightedness and signs of the same unrealistic fears that spawned 1996’s IIRAIRA; also promoted by Smith and the most devastating piece of Immigration legislation in US history.
The TWTRA will raise the overall number of H-1Bs to 160,000 for the current year, but allows for only 107,500 in FY 2001. Mr. Smith bases this number on the number actually approved in 1999, a formula which apparently fails to consider that the economy is rapidly expanding, such that more H-1Bs will be required to fulfill the demand in FY 2000 than last year.
The bill also contains some rather restrictive provisions, which may prove to halt its progress. None of the increased number of H-1Bs will be available until regulations are promulgated to implement the American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998; the bill that increased the number of H-1B from 65,000 to 115,000 for last year. New H-1Bs will be allowed only for full-time employment. The State Department will have sole authority to determine the “equivalency” of foreign college degrees to those obtained in accredited US schools, in the place of private concerns that currently render such determinations.
Hopefully, the House of Representatives will not insist that a final H-1B bill contain the restrictive provisions of Smith’s bill. The TWTRA is not good for the economy. Its requirements will suffocate smaller Business who dare to enter the bureaucratic morass and petition an H-1B worker.