H-1B Visa Expansion Comes Under Fire

Congress approves legislation that allows the tech industry to hire 20,000 additional foreign workers next year, a measure that isn't sitting well with the industry's rank and file.

Before recessing for Thanksgiving, Congress approved legislation that allows the tech industry to hire 20,000 additional foreign workers next year. The industrys lobby lauded the measure as a boon to the economy and U.S. competitiveness, but many in the industrys rank and file see it as a way for companies to take advantage of low-cost labor.

The measure, which expands the number of foreign workers eligible for H-1B visas from 65,000 to 85,000 next year, was inserted into an appropriations bill, which requires passage for the government to continue normal operations. The additional 20,000 H-1B visas apply only to foreign nationals with masters degrees or doctorates from U.S. universities.

The H-1B victory for tech companies coincides with rising concerns about the growing number of IT jobs being outsourced to workers overseas.

Together, the two employment trends are generating growing resentment in the United States.

"Havent American businesses laid off enough American IT people in favor of cheap foreign labor yet?" asked Scott Gates, a TPA (third-party administrator) consultant at Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital Inc., in Ashland, Ky. "How much closer to free do they need to get?"

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read about recent indutry lobbying for more H-1B visas.

According to some IT professionals, employers are combining jobs that require different skill sets and trading in experienced workers for those eager to work for less. After spending eight months unemployed and sending out hundreds of résumés, Bob Martoncik said he accepted a position paying 40 percent less than his previous salary.

"With the consolidation of positions and low pay, the current workers are suffering burnout," said Martoncik, in Toledo, Ohio, who has 22 years of broad IT experience.

According to the Information Technology Association of America, foreign students comprise more than 50 percent of many advanced math, science and engineering programs. Preventing American companies from hiring these students would give overseas competitors an edge, the ITAA argues.

"Forcing foreign students to return home after earning advanced degrees sends that public investment packing," said Harris Miller, president of ITAA, in Washington.

However, associations for IT professionals maintain that the H-1B visa program is not needed when highly educated Americans are unemployed or underemployed.

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