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IEEE-USA, SIA urge for H-1B reform

Posted: 17 Oct 2007     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:H-1B visa reform  engineering  green card 

The IEEE-USA and Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) have sent a letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate committees on judiciary and immigration and citizenship matters, to urge the Congress for immigration reform this year that address several key issues, especially employment-based visas, or green cards.

While the IEEE-USA has long opposed Congressional proposals to raise the cap on H-1B visas—the visa most frequently used to bring foreign tech workers temporarily into the U.S—the SIA has lobbied to raise that annual cap, which is currently set at 85,000, including 20,000 visas for foreign students who graduate from U.S. universities with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM fields.

Raising the cap on H-1B visas—along with many other assorted proposals, including H-1B anti-abuse, anti-fraud provisions, and changes in green-card processes and policies—were all part of controversial and comprehensive immigration reform legislation that Congress had been considering earlier this year.

However, when that comprehensive reform bill—which also included other hotly debated immigration issues like border control—died, so did discussion about H-1B visa and green card reform.

Need to raise the cap
Groups like SIA had been pushing to raise the cap on H-1B because those visas have been running out quickly each year for the last few years. Many tech industry employers and groups like SIA claim they're unable to find needed talent because of shortages in the United States and the inability to hire foreign workers. IEEE-USA, on the other hand is a group that opposes raising the H-1B cap because it claims qualified U.S. workers are often overlooked for jobs that end up going to lower-paid foreign tech workers.

However, in the letter to Congress signed by the presidents of the SIA and IEEE-USA, both groups highlighted the need for raising the cap on employment based, permanent residency visas, or green cards, for foreign technology workers—and creating exemptions for foreign professionals with advanced STEM degrees.

Further reform
Other reforms urged in the letter by both groups include creating a new foreign student visa category to allow U.S. STEM bachelor's or higher degree holders who have a job offer to transition directly from student visas to green cards; and extending post-curricular optional practical training for foreign students from 12 months to 24 months to allow them to go more easily from temporary to permanent resident status.

The letter also urged to exempt the spouse and children of certain employment-based professionals from the employment-based immigrant visa cap. It stated, "SIA and IEEE-USA both support legislation that will strengthen America's high-tech workforce."

- Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

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