March 31, 2006 4:00 AM PST
H-1B visas hit roadblock in Congress
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The H-1B cap has fluctuated over the years, peaking at 195,000 between 2001 and 2003 but reverting to lower levels starting in 2004. The allotment for visas had already been reached by the first day of the 2005 fiscal year and six weeks before the start of fiscal year 2006, drawing renewed outcry from technology companies over worker shortages. Congress has already approved an additional 20,000 slots for foreign master's or Ph.D. graduates of U.S. universities.
Groups such as the IEEE-USA, which represents American electrical and electronics engineers, have argued that the system is used not to bring in the best and the brightest foreign talent, but to pay them lower wages than their U.S. counterparts.
David Huber, a computer network-management specialist based in Chicago, told politicians at Thursday's hearing that he had firsthand experience with such displacement. Describing himself as a senior-level employee "whose life has been devastated by the H-1B program," Huber detailed two instances in which he had applied for positions that were later offered to foreign workers--in one case, at a salary he claimed was $30,000 less than the market rate.
Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, said he was concerned that certifications along the lines of what his colleague suggested would be unenforceable and ineffective. He suggested it might make most sense to keep the H-1B program as an option for employers but institute a "sliding cap that will decrease over time so we will not shut out homegrown American workers."
CNET News.com's Declan McCullagh contributed to this report.
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