House Immigration Subcommittee Approves H1B Visa Bill
(April 12, 2000) The House Immigration Subcommittee approved HR 4227, Rep. Lamar Smith's H1B visa bill, by a voice vote on Wednesday afternoon, April 12. The bill would relieve the shortage of high tech workers by removing the cap on H1B visas for three years. The subcommittee adopted one amendment, which pertains only to physical therapists receiving H1B visas.
|Tech Law Journal Summary of Bills Pertaining to Visas for High Tech Workers.|
|HR 4227, Technology Worker Temporary Relief Act, 4/11/00.|
|Opening Statement of Rep. Smith, 4/12/00.|
HR 4227, the Technology Worker Temporary Relief Act, is one of many pending bills regarding visas for foreign workers in the high tech industry. However, it is the first to be reported out of any House committee or subcommittee. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved S 2045, a bill sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), last month.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) introduced an earlier version of his H1B bill (HR 3814) on March 1. The current bill, HR 4227, bears the same title, but is significantly different. The bill was introduced only yesterday. The markup was scheduled with only 24 hours notice.
Some members of the subcommittee complained about the lack of notice. Others stated that it should also include provisions for education and training.
Rep. Smith responded that the "bill was written so that only this committee would have jurisdiction." If the bill included provisions for education and training, it would have to be referred to additional committees with jurisdiction. This would slow down the legislative process.
Rep. Smith hinted that language providing for training of American workers, and education, would be added to the bill on the House floor, or passed in separate legislation. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who is a cosponsor of the bill, stated, "I hope that separate legislation is pushed forward."
Several members, including Rep. Sheila Lee (D-TX), the ranking minority member of the Immigration Subcommittee, and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the ranking minority member of the full Judiciary Committee, complained about the short notice. Rep. Lee stated that she would liked to have held a hearing to give industry, labor, and minorities an opportunity to testify. "We also need to hear from minority professionals in Silicon Valley about how they feel locked out by the entire H1B program."
Rep. Lee continued that "any raise in the caps on these types of specialty workers should include an increased commitment to the training of U.S. workers. The growing workforce of our country, and the strength and growth of the high tech industry, in particular, can be met effectively by fully developing the skills of our own workers as a first priority, before hiring specialized foreign workers."
"I believe that the current demand -- market for certain technical specialties is that we should encourage us to retrain displaced workers, attract underrepresented women and minorities, better educate our young people, and retrain will and able older workers who have been forced into unemployment," said Rep. Lee.
She also introduced, but then withdrew an amendment in the nature of a substitute, which she described as HR 4200, the American Worker Information Technology Skills Improvement Act of 2000. She stated that her bill would increase the cap on H1B visas, "carves out for H1B visa holders with masters and Ph.D.s", provide funding for computer learning in the Boys and Girls Clubs, and other things.
Rep. Conyers criticized HR 4227, the Smith bill. He stated that it "does very little to address the H1B problem satisfactorily."
"It is my view that Lofgren-Dreier, the approach in their measure provides the best act, but we want to work along with our ranking member Sheila Jackson-Lee, who has done a lot of work in trying to make sure that there are some realistic additions made." Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) introduced an H1B bill, sometimes called the HITECH Act, on about March 15.
Rep. Conyers continued that "I am afraid that I don't see this bill as adequate to the task -- more or less a starting vessel that will be filled to the full by the committee, and I am looking forward to working with Chairman Henry Hyde whose cooperation I think will make this a bipartisan effort to extend a bridge between two very large ideas that I think we ought to be able to find some accommodation for."
Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) released a statement on April 11 in which he said that "Chairman Smith's new H-1B bill is a very positive development. It's a big step forward in getting a bipartisan bill passed through the House that addresses a key economic need - ensuring that our high tech industries have the workers necessary to continue to lead our high tech economy."
"Chairman Smith's legislation is a good bill, and deserves to pass with bipartisan support tomorrow when his subcommittee is scheduled to mark it up."
"I have met with Chairman Smith and he has assured me that he supports increasing funds for effective education and training initiatives to address the long term problem of skilled worker shortages, and that these important provisions will be part of the final bill," said Rep. Dreier.
Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT), who is a cosponsor of 3814, but not HR 4227, stated that "there are still some things in the bill that you are aware that I am still concerned with." He stated that he wanted to work on those prior to mark up by the full Committee. However, he did not state what these concerns are.
Rep. Lofgren stated several concerns with the bill. She criticized Section 202 which requires the posting of certain information on the Internet. She argued that this violates privacy. She also critized Section 203, which requires of English language proficieny for any H1B recipient whose job it is to teach. The requirement "is misplaced", said Rep. Lofgren. "Had it been a Java requirement, it might have been well placed."
Several members raised agricultural worker issues. Rep. Charles Canady (R-FL) and Rep. Bill McCollum (R-FL) both argued that there is a shortage of workers to pick seasonal crops in Florida. However, they did not propose amending HR 4227 to deal with this issue.
The subcommittee approved one amendment by a unanimous voice vote. Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA) introduced an amendment that physical therapists who recieve H1B visas meet the same requirements as American physical therapists. No other amendments were adopted.
Rep. Lee (D-TX) offered an amendment in the nature of a substitute, which she described, and then withdrew.
Rep. Lofgren also offered an amendment in the nature of a substitute, which she described, and then withdrew. Her amendment consists largely of the HITECH Act. However, she stated that it also includes the language of the Spousal Equity Act.
The bill was approved by an unrecorded voice vote, with the overwhelming majority voting yes. Rep. Lofgren voted no.
Rep. Smith stated that he had several amendments, but would not offer them until full committee mark up.
Rep. Smith's bill has been criticized from both opponents and supporters of increasing the number of H1B visas. After the mark up, the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) described HR 4227 as "counterproductive".
An ITAA press release expressed "serious reservations about provisions in Chairman Smith's bill that would render this change meaningless and make the new visas unavailable to high tech firms."
Harris Miller, President of ITAA, said "we appreciate Mr. Smith's recognition that the ceiling on H1-B visa applications is arbitrary and ultimately counter-productive. Setting limits on H1-B visas is a little like driving a racecar with the cruise control set. Unfortunately, the bill passed by the subcommittee today would erect significant barriers and makes winning in a global economy that much more difficult."
Among the provisions singled out by the ITAA as counterproductive are conditioning the additional visas on the Department of Labor's release of immigration regulations implementing a law that passed Congress two years ago, requiring employers seeking additional visas to meet new wage and hiring test conditions, imposing new minimum salary and revenue requirements that could force small businesses and entrepreneurs out of the program, and requiring that the Department of State verify degrees given out by foreign universities and colleges.
The ITAA continues to support the HITECH Act, sponsored by Rep. Dreier and Rep. Lofgren.
The members of the subcommittee who participated in all or a part of the proceedings included Lamar Smith (R-TX), Sheila Lee (D-TX), Howard Berman (D-CA), Charles Canady (R-FL), Chris Cannon (R-UT), John Conyers (D-MI), Barney Frank (D-MA), Elton Gallegly (R-CA), Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Bill McCollum (R-FL), Marty Meehan (D-MA), Ed Pease (R-IN), Joe Scarborough (R-FL).