Industry Pushes Tech Worker Issue

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Industry Pushes Tech Worker Issue

By Neil Munro
Staff Writer

Because of high demand from industry, Congress will likely have to refight the 1996 battle over caps on the import of foreign technology experts, said Harris Miller, president of the Washington-based Information Technology Association of America.

The immediate problem for the ITAA's members is that the companies have already used up the industry's annual quota of 65,000 immigrants, said Miller. For the next four weeks, industry will not get the needed H1-B work visas for the roughly 5,500 foreign workers it had hoped to hire by Oct. 1, he said.

However, most of these workers will start work in early October because the Immigration and Naturalization Service is obligingly processing the work visas for scheduled approval on Oct. 1, when the 1998 quota begins, he said.

However, 5,500 workers that did not make it into the 1997 quota will effectively reduce the 1998 quota by a similar amount, he said. That will ensure that industry will bump up against its quota in July or August 1998, he said.

In 1995 and 1996, industry lobbied hard in Congress against proposals that would have sharply limited the import of foreign workers.

Aided by heavyweights such as Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash., and Intel Corp., Santa Clara, Calif., the industry preserved its annual quota and fended off tough restrictions on the imported workers.

The debate was a sharp defeat for the U.S. branch of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, based in Washington. The IEEE had lobbied hard to tighten restrictions on temporary immigrant workers.

Rather than raise the quota on the import of foreign experts, Congress would be wiser to promote the training of U.S. students and workers, said Paul Kostek, chairman of the IEEE's career policy council.

To ensure that quota is not raised in 1998, the IEEE is allying with other professional organizations to persuade legislators that the quota should be kept at 65,000, Kostek said.

Also, the IEEE disagrees with the ITAA's estimate that the high-tech industry has a shortage of 190,000 skilled workers, said Kostek. The 190,000 estimate includes many lower-skilled jobs for which U.S. workers could be quickly trained, and also includes routine job openings generated by normal turnover in the job market, he said.

But Miller and other industry executives can't raise the quota this year because Congress' calendar is crowded with other high-profile issues, said Miller. "They are telling us that 'you can survive for a couple more weeks'" before October, when industry's quota is refilled, he said.

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