Two new bills propose H-1B hike

Though he tried and failed last year, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates’ plea for H1B quota hike seems to have appealed to the politicians in the pre-election mode this year. Two Bills have been introduced, one by U.S. House of Representatives Democrat on the Science and Technology Committee which Gates had addressed and another by a House republican. Both bills propose to raise the H1B quota by 2008.

H1B is a visa category that allows US Employers to bring in aliens with at least a Bachelors degree and specialized skills to work in special occupations (programmers, scientists etc). As of now, the H1B cap is at 65,000, and in addition there exists a H1B Masters quota for aliens with advanced degrees from U.S. schools, which stands at 20000. So, altogether 85,000 visas.

The first bill, The Innovation Employment Act, proposes to hike the quota to 130,000 for 2008 and take it up to 180,000 if necessary in the preceding year. Sponsored by Democrat Gabrielle Giffords (AZ) the bill also proposes exemption for all foreigners who has a master’s or doctorate from a U.S. university in math, science, engineering, and other technology fields. In addition, another 20,000 visas are being proposed for foreigners who have similar degrees from institutions outside the United States.

The second bill was proposed by Lamar Smith, a ranking member of House Judiciary Committee from Texas. The Bill, called the Strengthening United States Technology And Innovation Now (or Sustain) Act, proposes to raise the visa cap to 195,000.

Why the Hike?

Both bills follow Bill Gates’ plea, which is echoed by many other technology companies, which pointed to a visa shortage crisis. These companies argue that they are facing severe shortage of specialized workers as there aren’t many qualified Americans. Countering Some of the usual criticism faced by H1B, Gates stated in his addresses that by hiring H-1B workers Microsoft is actually preventing jobs from being moved offshore and also creating more jobs for American programmers and engineers’ junior level.

The demand for H1B has also far exceeded the quota in the last few years, culminating in a unprecedented 150,000 applications received by USCIS on the very first day in 2007.

US programmers highly critical of Bill

The H-1B program has always received lots of criticism from Americans programmers, who believe that there is no actual shortage of workers in US and the technology companies are misusing the H1B program to hire low paid workers. US workers also feel that the H1B program depress the wages and are displacing qualified domestic workers. With US facing probable recession and the recent job cuts are also lending credentials to these fears.

Additionally, as a large chunk of H1Bs are grabbed by the Indian firms lately, many US workers believe the current H-1B program does not support U.S. businesses. Microsoft and Intel are the two US based companies that largely apply for H1Bs.

New H-1B bills can reform current program?

It has been alleged that many consultancy firms are acting as recruitment agencies, hiring H-1B workers and them allowing them to find job with other foreign companies.

The Innovation Employment Act, if passed will put a stop to this practice. The Bill proposes to enforce that clause that H1Bs workers are employed directly by a company i.e. H-1B visa holders cannot do third party consulting.

In addition, this bill also proposes to stop employers from bringing foreign workers here to just to train and then sending them back to the offshore branches.

But let’s not forget, these bills have been just introduced and not even passed the committee level. The H1B application start date for 2008-2009 is April 1st. It’s highly unlikely that either bill will be passed before that.