WASHINGTON – Multinational companies say they might have to take their business outside the United States if Congress doesn't act on the H-1B visa cap before Oct. 1.
H-1B visas allow information technology workers and other highly skilled professionals to work temporarily in the United States. The current H-1B quota is 195,000,but it will be reduced to 65,000 in the new fiscal year unless Congress acts.
Representatives of Intel Corp. and Ingersoll-Rand argued Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee that H-1B visa holders are needed to fill technical positions for which there are not enough U.S. candidates.
“If immigration law and regulations create barriers to our ability to hire H-1B workers with the advanced,university-level education in engineering and the hard sciences,” said Patrick J. Duffy,Intel’s human resources attorney,”Intel and other companies will be required to move to those countries where the talent resides since we have not been able to find enough U.S. workers with the advanced degrees we need.”
Elizabeth C. Dickson,a human resource specialist with Ingersoll-Rand and chair of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Subcommittee on Immigration,said that the high costs of bringing H-1B workers is proof that companies do so only because there is a sound business need for their skills and services. Fees,taxes,relocation costs and other expenses can cost a company tens of thousands of dollars above an H-1B worker’s salary each year,Dickson said.
“America cannot maintain its global advantage without an adequate supply of top-quality engineers,including immigrants,” Dickson said. “Immigrants build wealth and create jobs for native-born Americans.”
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch,R-Utah,the committee chairman,quoted a study by the University of California Berkley saying that Chinese and Indian entrepreneurs are responsible for 29 percent of the technology business in Silicon Valley and in 2000 they created more than 72,000 jobs.
Hatch also said that money from H-1B application fees has helped provide training to more that 55,000 American workers and funded scholarships for more than 12,500 students in science and engineering.
He said he will decide the issue based on “the best long-term interest of the American economy and American workers.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein,D-Calif.,said that during her last visit to California people complained that they lost their jobs because they were replaced with people they trained and who were paid two-thirds less for the same kind of work.
John Steadman,president-elect of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers said,”The unemployment rate of electrical and electronic engineers has reached an all-time high. This translates to hundreds of thousands of unemployed U.S. engineers. These are people who are degreed and capable U.S. engineers.”
Unemployment among electrical and electronic engineers reached 7 percent in early 2003,Steadman said.
According to INS data,more than two-thirds of the new H-1B visa petitions approved in recent years have been for information technology workers and engineers,including electrical,electronics,computer and software engineers. The most common country of birth for new H-1B workers is India,with nearly 50 percent,followed by China,Canada,the United Kingdom,the Philippines and South Korea.
Nearly 40 percent of new H-1B visa holders were previously admitted on other temporary visas — more than half held student visas.
Steadman said that H-1B workers take with them acquired knowledge of the United State market and business practice and a network of contacts when they return home.
“With that knowledge,coupled with lower domestic labor costs,they are well positioned to compete with United States firms for outsourcing work,” he said.
But multinational representatives argued this is exactly why H-B1 cap should not be reduced.
“Sending trained professionals home is sending them to your competition,” Dickson said.
Duffy said both the problem and the solution lie in the education system because about half of the graduate students in physical science in U.S. universities are foreign nationals,and the percentage increases the higher the degree and the more prestigious the school.
“Economically,intellectually and culturally,the United States loses if its policies force these students to leave,bringing their skills to other countries and companies that are competing with United States,” Duffy said.
Dickson said,”We are looking for a reasonable,market-driven H-1B policy.”
But Feinstein said the cap should fall back to 65,000 unless stronger safeguards can be produced.
“I'm elected to represent people from California,who are losing their jobs big time,” she said.