Congress Again Considers Further Expansion of H-1B Worker Program
March 10, 2000

As this article is being written, Congress is considering a variety of new provisions that will expand upon and revise the laws that currently govern the issuance of H-1B visas for foreign professional workers. At present, the maximum number of H-1B visas issued to foreign workers per year is 115,000. If certain voices in Congress have their way, the annual allotment of H-1B visas will increase to 195,000. Still, other factions favor a more modest increase and with additional restrictions tacked on to an already complex regulatory scheme.

As even President Clinton has voiced support for “a reasonable increase” in the yearly supply of H-1B visas, it is likely that the end result will be an increase in the yearly allotment of H-1B visas, but with additional restrictions.

The version of the H-1B proposal most favored by the business community, especially the computer consulting industry, would increase the yearly allotment of H-1B visas to 195,000 for the next three years. The allotment would then decrease to 65,000 per year, unless Congress again takes action to increase the supply. The measure, the “American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act”, was introduced in the U.S. Senate by a bipartisan group of legislators, led by Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Spencer Abraham (R-Mich) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). With the economy said to be booming and U.S. unemployment figures at a 30 year low, the business and manufacturing communities are crying out to Congress insisting that the talents of foreign born and/or foreign educated professional workers are necessary for the U.S. to stay competitive and to keep our economy strong.

Other key provisions of the proposed legislation include:

  1. freeing up an additional 20,000 H-1B visas by exempting from the numerical limitations H-1B employees of U.S. government institutions, universities and assorted not for profit institutions as well as foreign students recently graduating from educational programs at the master’s degree level or higher and
  2. allowing those currently working in the U.S. in H-1B status to change employers immediately upon the filing of documentation by a new H-1B employer, as opposed to waiting out the often lengthy (several months) adjudication process before commencing work with the new employer.

The other major H-1B legislation proposal being considered by Congress was introduced by Republican U.S. Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), the Chairman of the House Immigration Subcommittee. Although the “Technology Worker Relief Act of 2000” would allow for an increase in the visa cap by 45,000, it would do so only for only for the current fiscal year. Of more concern however, are the severely restrictive provisions that would a) allow only large businesses (those with at least $5,000,000 in gross assets) to employ H-1B workers, b) require petitioning employers to demonstrate increased annual employment of U.S. workers and c) increase filing fees up to $1,210.00 per petition, with the option of paying yet an additional premium of $250.00 for “expedited processing” available to certain large companies with clean track Department of Labor track records.

Understandably, the business community is in favor of the provisions proposed by Senators Abraham and Hatch. And the urgency of the situation could not be greater, since we are only half way through fiscal year 2000 (which runs from October 1, 1999 through September 30, 2000) and it is likely the current allotment of 115,000 H-1B’s will be exhausted by the end of this month, if not sooner. Like in years past, the exhausted supply of H-1B visas will pose a major obstacle to the efficient functioning of U.S. businesses relying on H-1B workers, as workers in the U.S. with extension requests pending are barred from working in the interim if their statuses have expired, and new recruits are forced to wait until the beginning of the next fiscal year to start contributing their services.

Although many new pieces of H-1B legislation have been mulled over at various levels in Congress in recent months, it is likely some hybrid of the proposals discussed above will be enacted by winter’s end.

Copyright © 2000-2008, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois