With skyrocketing IT unemployment as a backdrop, the U.S. Congress let the H-1B visa limit drop back to 65,000 on Tuesday.
The limit on H-1B visas had been boosted to 195,000 in 2000 in response to companies that claimed they couldnt hire enough domestic talent to fuel the dot-com bubble. Even then this assertion was scorned by many high-tech labor experts who saw the visa program as a way to get cheap workers.
Whats changed since then is that IT unemployment has become impossible to ignore. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some 230,000 U.S. workers in 12 engineering and computer job classifications were unemployed in the years second quarter. According to the IEEE-USA, a unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc., the unemployment rate for electrical and electronics engineers was at a record high of 7 percent in the first quarter and was scarcely better—6.4 percent—in the second quarter.
Leadership of the IEEE-USA isnt satisfied with the visa cap returning to its historical cap, however, and has issued a call for Congress to reinstate a $1,000 visa application fee that has been used to train groups of workers—many from welfare-to-work or inner-city empowerment programs—to work in the tech industry. The IEEE-USA wants to see such funds directed to training displaced engineers and other high-tech professionals.
The group also has demanded that the Department of Labor be granted stronger authority to investigate fraud and abuse of the H-1B program.