Raising the H-1B cap to help high-tech

H-1B paperwork

TEXT OF STORY

Doug Krizner: In 1990, Congress created the H-1B visa program.
It allows U.S. companies to temporarily hire skilled foreign workers. But year after year, demand for these visas outstrips supply.

For the high-tech industry, that's a problem. Rachel Dornhelm reports on efforts to get Congress to allow more overseas workers.


Rachel Dornhelm: The government hands out new H-1B visas every fiscal year to companies eager for the talent. These visas go fast, and they are capped at 85,000 for corporate workers.

Seth Sternberg: All the slots got taken up the first day applications were available, which was April 1.

That's Seth Sternberg, co-founder of Silicon Valley high-tech start-up Meebo. He says the government ended up distributing the visas through a lottery. He won two this year. But Sternberg says relying on random lotteries is no way to run a business.

Sternberg: People who have these skills are snapped up in a heartbeat.

Large tech firms, like Oracle and Microsoft, lead lobbying efforts to raise the H-1B cap. If they're not successful, they can send foreign employees to work in their overseas offices.

Companies like Sternberg's don't have that option, and can lose business. Besides, Sternberg says, hiring foreigners isn't in itself a bad thing.

Sternberg: We help the America economy broadly, which I think is a goal everyone can agree on.

Not necessarily.

Rob Sanchez: These employers, they don't feel the responsibility for hiring American workers. And if those American workers need a skill, they don't seem to feel the responsibility of spending the money and the time to train those Americans with those skills.

Rob Sanchez is a software engineer in Phoenix. He says he's been fired twice, and replaced by H-1B visa-holders.

Sanchez: Companies are dumping their older employees because they're more expensive, and bringing in H-1B visa-holders because typically, they will work cheaper.

But Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell from Washington State says it's more about supply and demand.

Maria Cantwell: There's an opening for 365,000 computer scientists on an annual basis in this country, and we're only educating about 80,000 people.

Legislation Cantwell attached to an immigration bill, allowing more skilled foreign workers into the country, failed earlier this year. Cantwell says she'll try again, but probably not this year.

I'm Rachel Dornhelm for Marketplace.

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