January 08, 2001, 10:50 AM — President Clinton yesterday proposed raising the H-1B visa cap and also outlined a series of measures that he urged Congress to consider while weighing possible H-1B legislation. The president's plan drew criticism from some House Republicans but was applauded by a prominent high-tech industry trade group.
Clinton proposed raising the cap on the number of visas issued to foreign workers to 200,000, starting in the federal government's next fiscal year beginning in October. Currently, the cap is set at 115,000 visas for this year and 107,000 for fiscal 2001.
According to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), more than 60% of the 134,000 visas allotted between May 1998 and July 1999 were granted to individuals working in computer-related jobs, mostly systems analysts and programmers. Facing a chronic labor shortage, the high-tech industry has argued in favor of raising the H-1B visa cap to bring in more skilled technical workers, who can stay in the U.S. for up to six years.
One of Clinton's measures calls for raising the H-1B processing fee to fund high-tech education and training initiatives, particularly for underrepresented groups such as women and minorities. Clinton proposed raising this fee from $500 to $2,000, although companies at which H-1B visa holders make up 15% or more of the workforce would have to pay $3,000.
"Considering the significant cost and salaries and moving fees of hiring a worker from another country, these fees are quite a small percentage of the costs of bringing in additional workers," said Gene Sperling, director of the White House's National Economic Council. Sperling outlined Clinton's measures in a letter sent to Congress yesterday.
Clinton also proposed that 40% of the fiscal 2001 H-1B visas be granted to individuals with at least master's degrees and that the percentage be raised to 45% and then 50% during the next two fiscal years. According to the INS, 41% of visas allotted between 1998 and 1999 were to workers with at least a master's degree.
In a statement issued yesterday, the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) in Arlington, Va., applauded Clinton's proposed measures.
"Increasing the availability of highly skilled workers to American technology firms is one of the most positive steps the U.S. can take this year toward continuing the robust growth of the new economy," said ITAA President Harris Miller.
But U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Immigration Subcommittee, said Clinton's proposals neglect the needs of American workers. "I have never seen a more complete disregard for American workers," Smith said in a statement. "For them, this is all about politics, not American workers or high-tech visas."