As IT workers reel from a stream of recession-based layoffs, some who were once vocal supporters of the H1-B visa program have become mute on the issue. Conversely, their opponents are being heard more loudly. One such voice is that of Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo. Tancredo is behind H.R. 3222, the High-Tech Work Fairness and Economic Stimulus Act of 2001, which would return the H1-B quota to 65,000 per year. The current cap stands at 195,000. The Tancredo bill, under consideration in the House, would also provide for further reductions in the cap if unemployment increases beyond a certain level. IT Careers Managing Editor Lisa Vaas recently spoke with Tancredo about what political maneuverings are likely to take place over the coming months as the 2003 sunsetting of the H1-B visa increase draws near.
eWeek: Are you hearing early strategizing from advocates of continuing—or making permanent—the H1-B visa increase?
Tancredo: Weve heard rumors within the ITAA [Information Technology Association of America]. Theyve started to plant pieces [such as the recent IT Work Force Study] and issue releases that say, "We know the economys recovering, and when it does, well have a new [IT labor] shortage."
eWeek: Were not hearing much from the politicians who backed the 1998 increase, though.
Tancredo: [The events of Sept. 11] have overshadowed their desire to become known as someone who wants to get more people from outside the United States into the country. I dont believe there was ever a need, anyway. I think it was completely contrived. And its going to be difficult for them to reauthorize at the 195,000 level.
Another reason theyre not talking yet is, the way things work around [Washington], when you get yourself involved with an issue this controversial, the last thing you want to do is to start that debate until you absolutely have to. Something will be offered, but it will probably be an amendment to something else, maybe an appropriations bill. Theyll try to hide it that way.
eWeek: What are your bills chances?
Tancredo: I dont think it will ever see the light of day. But thats OK. [The visa increase] is destined to be sunsetted next year, and the battle will be over [the increases] authorization. If were able to stop reauthorization next year, it will be the same thing as my bill passing.
eWeek: What will your stance be toward reauthorization of the visa increase?
Tancredo: Im thinking we may go beyond [rolling the limit back to 65,000 visas] and saying, "Eliminate this whole category of visa status and abolish them altogether."
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