Bills Would Double, Triple H-1B Cap

Less than a day after Bill Gates lobbied Congress for H-1B increases, two representatives follow suit.  

Bill Gates' visit to Washington to lobby lawmakers for improved access to foreign workers March 12 appears to have gotten through to at least two Congressmen, who have each proposed significant H-1B increases.

Late the day of Gates' speech, a House Democrat on the Committee on Science and Technology, the one which Gates had addressed, introduced a bill that would double the number of H-1B visas available beginning with the batch to be made available April 1 for the 2009 fiscal year.

The Innovation Employment Act, proposed by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), would increase the cap on H-1B visas from 65,000 to 130,000 each year. It would also remove the 20,000 cap entirely on H-1B applications from foreign graduate students attending U.S. colleges and focusing their studies on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

Gifford's bill includes a stipulation that if the 130,000 cap is reached in the 2009 fiscal year, the number would be increased again for the 2010 fiscal year, this time to 180,000, nearly tripling the current level.

The SUSTAIN (Strengthening U.S. Technology and Innovation Now) Act, proposed March 13, went a step further; Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), a ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, proposed raising the H-1B visa cap to 195,000 for fiscal years 2009 and 2010, the highest level since the peak in 2001-2003.

Both bills stand out from earlier attempted H-1B increases by their aggressiveness. While a 2007 effort, the failed Immigration Reform Bill, would have added 50,000 visas annually, these bills would, respectively, double and triple the limit.

Opponents to these measures argue that an increase in H-1B visas would put U.S. workers out of jobs. During his testimony, however, Bill Gates insisted that just the opposite is true: For every H-1B hire Microsoft makes, he said, the company adds an average of four additional employees to support that worker in various capacities.

"Other nations are benefiting from our misguided policies," Gates told the House Committee on Science and Technology. "They are revising their immigration policies to attract highly talented students and professionals who would otherwise study, live and work in the United States for at least part of their careers."

The H-1B debate is expected to go into overdrive in the coming weeks, as April 1 is the first day that the supply of 65,000 H-1B visas will be available for the 2009 fiscal year. The 2008 supply of H-1B visas was tapped out the first day the visas became available and the 2007 supply ran out in two months.