members of Congress have introduced a bill to increase the number of available H-1b visas and to dismantle and reorganize the INS.
Following much debate in Washington over recent months, members of Congress introduced a bill to increase the number of available H-1b visas by another 85,000 in each of the next three years. The new law will offer relief to thousands of U.S. employers who have found the temporary increases enacted in 1998 woefully inadequate to fill their demand for high-tech professionals. Nearly contemporaneously, members of Congress have introduced two bills proposing to dismantle and reorganize the INS. The proposed restructuring appears more popular than ever, with the beleaguered agency under constant criticism for inefficiency and disorganization.
In 1998, Congress passed the American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act, (“ACWIA”) which, among other things, raised the number of H-1B visas available annually by 50,000. The visas, however, were all used up several months before the end of the fiscal year. Recognizing that the temporary increase has done little to satiate the information technology and related industries’ growing need for workers, Senator Phil Gramm of Texas introduced the “New Workers for Economic Growth Act of 1999,” which will increase the number of H-1B visas available to 200,000 for the years 2000, 2001 and 2002. The bill also proposes to exempt from the cap H-1B professionals who have a master’s degree or better, or who earn $60,000 per year or more, or those who work at an institute of higher learning.
Hopefully, this law will pass in time for the beginning of the new fiscal year on October 1, 1999, in order to allow employers an opportunity to gauge their labor needs before all of the visas are exhausted.
The first of three bills introduced to reorganize the INS, the “Immigration Reorganization and Improvement Act of 1999,” proposes to split the INS down the middle to create two separate bureaus. The Bureau of Immigration Services would be responsible for the adjudication of benefits such as applications for lawful permanent residence and naturalization. The Bureau of Immigration Enforcement would handle the border patrols, deportation and detention functions.
With the INS’ recent focus on the deportation of aliens from the United States, the “benefits” side of INS has suffered commensurately. The change will be welcome to the thousands of people whose applications remain unadjudicated for months on end without explanation. Allowing a separate Bureau of Immigration Services to run autonomously could only improve the dispensation of immigration benefits in the United States.