Bill would double cap on H-1B visas

Published 17 March 2008

The United States allows millions of little-educated, low-skill immigrants to come to the country, while allocating a tiny number of visas to high-skill scientists and engineers; this is going to change, but critics complain that bill still leaves major problems — chief among them: setting wage floor for H-1B employees — unaddressed

Forget, for a minute, the debate about illegal immigration into the United States. The legal immigration policy is problematic enough. The central problem critics of U.S. legal immigration policy point to is the fact that it does not serve the U.S. national interest. In this age of information and science, in which the rewards go to the more educated and innovative, the U.S. legal immigration policy allows millions of little-educated, low-skill immigrants to enter the United States under various family reunion, political asylum, and country quota clauses, while allowing only a small number of highly educated scientists, engineers, and researchers to come here legally — and keeping a very tight cap on the small number. The result is massive downward pressure on low-skill jobs, high demand for public services — and U.S. decline in science and engineering relative to China and other countries which actively and purposefully encourage science and math education.

Well, someone is doing something about this — even if the effort leaves much to be desired. A bill introduced in the U.S. Congress would double the number of immigrant worker visas available each year under the H-1B program, earning the legislation praise from Microsoft and other technology leaders. The Innovation Employment Act, introduced by Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona) last Thursday, would increase the cap in H-1B visas from 65,000 a year to 130,000 a year. In addition, there would be no cap on H-1B applications for foreign graduate students attending U.S. colleges and studying science, technology, and related fields. Currently, there is a 20,000-a-year cap on visas for graduate students in all fields. The legislation would increase the H-1B cap to 180,000 in 2010 to 2015 if the 130,000 cap is reached the year before.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates called for an increase in the H-1B visa cap while testifying before the House of Representatives Science and Technology Committee Wednesday. In recent years, the H-1B cap has been filled days — or even the same day — after the government opened the application period. “We provide the world’s best universities … and the students are not allowed to stay and work in the country,” Gates said Wednesday. “The fact is, [other countries’] smartest people want to come here and that’s a huge advantage to us, and in a sense, we’re turning them away.” Microsoft praised Giffords’ bill. The legislation “would boost America’s competitiveness by giving U.S. employers the