Congress urged to let skilled workers into U.S.

By APRIL BETHEA

 

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 11/18/04

WASHINGTON - Some members of Congress are pressing for a vote this week
on allowing more skilled foreign workers to enter the United States
with a temporary visa.

Under the plan, which has been championed by technology companies and
some educators, foreign workers with a master's or doctoral degree from
an American college or university could enter the United States with a
temporary H-1B visa and not be counted in the federal limit on such
workers.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) is pushing for a vote on the proposal,
said spokeswoman Annie Laurie Crane.

Crane said Wednesday that lawmakers were considering including the H-1B
expansion in an omnibus spending bill to fund several federal
departments.

A vote on the spending bill could come as early as today.

Current law allows 65,000 skilled foreign workers to enter the United
States each year with an H-1B visa and work in a "specialty occupation"
for up to six years. Opponents of the policy say thousands more foreign
workers are able to work in the country because of exemptions in the
law.

The Department of Homeland Security announced Oct. 1, the first day of
fiscal 2005, that the year's limit on H-1B visas had already been
reached.

Supporters of H-1B expansion said that without changes to the law,
American companies could lose foreign workers who earn degrees in the
United States.

"We want to make sure that we always have access to the most talented
and educated people coming out of our schools," said Sandy Boyd, a vice
president at the National Association of Manufacturers and chairwoman
of a coalition called Compete America.

Boyd said nearly half the U.S. recipients of master's degrees in
science and engineering are awarded to foreign nationals, and that the
figure is even higher for recipients of doctorates.

For example, Boyd said foreign students received 518 of the 962
master's degrees in engineering awarded in 2003 at Georgia Tech, and
105 of the 179 doctorates in the discipline there.

Gene Nelson, a founding member of the National Association for the
Employment of Americans, said hiring more foreign employees would take
away jobs from U.S. workers.

Nelson, who holds a doctorate and works in a technology field, said he
was laid off Wednesday from a position he had held for six months.

"We're just toast," said Nelson, 52, of Carrollton, Texas. "We are like
lambs being led to the slaughter. We put in our time and work hard, and
we're thrown away like yesterday's newspaper."

The plan faces opposition. On Wednesday, 11 lawmakers sent letters to
the chairmen of the Senate and House Appropriations committees urging
them not to include the H-1B proposal in the spending bill, saying it
would stifle discussion on the topic.

"Immigration law is a controversial topic, and making such drastic
changes without a thoughtful discussion and debate of the merits of
such changes is unfair to the American people," the letter stated.

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