Thursday, May 17, 2007

"Lieberman, Hagel Call for Increase in Skilled Workers to Boost U.S. Economy"

Here's a press release issued Tuesday from the Senator's office:
Lieberman, Hagel Call for Increase in Skilled Workers to Boost U.S. Economy
Senators introduce the Skilled Worker Immigration and Fairness Act of 2007

May 15th, 2007 - Washington, D.C. - Senators Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) today introduced the Skilled Worker Immigration and Fairness Act of 2007 to ensure that America’s innovative industries can hire the workers they need to fuel US economic growth, and to better protect American workers. The bill is also co-sponsored by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and George Voinovich (R-OH).

The bill would increase the annual allotment of H-1B visas, which provide American employers with access to highly educated foreign professionals in “specialty occupations” (those requiring at least a U.S. bachelor's degree or equivalent education and work experience). Despite dramatic changes to the US economy in the past 17 years, the H-1B cap remains at its 1990 limit of 65,000 per year (an additional 20,000 visas are available for foreign nationals holding US graduate degrees). As a result, thousands of U.S. high-tech jobs today remain unfilled.

“To remain competitive, American companies need access to highly educated individuals,” Lieberman said. “But today’s system makes it difficult for innovative employers to recruit and retain highly educated talent, which puts the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage globally. As part of comprehensive immigration reform, we must address this crisis to ensure that America remains the world leader in innovation. At the same time, we must strengthen the H-1B program to ensure that American workers are protected.”

“The severe shortage of H-1B visas is a nation-wide problem, and Nebraska is directly affected. The demand in underserved communities throughout Nebraska for these highly qualified individuals, such as doctors and nurses in rural areas, far out number the supply. This legislation is important to helping keep America competitive in the 21st Century workplace,” Hagel said.

“Keeping America’s economy strong depends on having enough skilled workers,” said Cantwell. “That means making sure education and training opportunities are affordable and accessible, but it also means getting help from the world’s best and brightest when there are skill shortages. With so many high-tech companies in the Pacific Northwest, we need an H-1B visa process that meets employer demands as well as prevents fraud and abuse. This proposal strikes a balance on the H-1B visa program, which is key to investing in our future and keeping America competitive.”

The Lieberman-Hagel bill would increase the cap to 115,000 in 2007 and would add a flexible adjustment mechanism that would enable to cap to rise as high as 180,000, depending on market conditions (this ceiling would still be less than the 195,000 limit in 2001-2003). Additionally, the bill would exempt from the cap foreign nationals who hold a US graduate degree; a non-US graduate degree in science, technology, engineering or math; or a US medical specialty certification.

Currently, foreign nationals count for 56% of all engineering master's degrees and 65% of engineering Ph.D. degrees awarded by Connecticut universities. In Nebraska, the percentages are 37% and 72%, respectively.

In raising the H-1B cap, the bill would also create meaningful and reasonable reforms to prevent visa fraud and abuse. The bill includes provisions that would:

• Prohibit employers from advertising jobs as exclusively open to H-1B visa holders.

• Provide that employers with 50 employees cannot have more than half of their workforce on H-1B visas.

• Remove unnecessary restrictions on the Department of Labor’s (DOL) ability to investigate H-1B compliance.

• Authorize DOL to hire an additional 200 employees to administer, oversee, investigate and enforce the H-1B program.

• Raise the H-1B petition fee by $500, to pay for enhanced enforcement and ensure the program pays for itself.

• Authorize reasonable improvements to coordination among DOL, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of State (DOS).

The bill also allows the most highly qualified green card applicants to immigrate without being subject to artificial caps. Immediate families of employment based immigrants will no longer count against the worker caps.

The Lieberman-Hagel bill enjoys support from a wide-range of businesses technology groups, including Microsoft Corporation and Compete America, a coalition of corporations, educators, research institutions and trade associations committed to assuring that US employers have the ability to hire and retain the world’s best talent.

“The nation continues to witness a dramatic decline in the number of native born computer science graduates,” said Jack Krumholtz, Managing Director of Federal Government Affairs for Microsoft Corp. “As a result, technology companies like Microsoft rely on the H-1B visa and employment-based green card programs to deliver an adequate supply of highly qualified employees to help maintain our competitive position. That can only be achieved through immediate reform of these programs to ensure they are meeting the needs of our economy. We commend Senators Lieberman, Hagel, Cantwell and Voinovich for their leadership in addressing this critical problem, and urge the Senate to adopt these measures and pass expeditiously comprehensive immigration reform legislation.”

“The Skilled Worker Immigration and Fairness Act would provide crucial reforms to the H-1B visa and EB green card processes that U.S. companies urgently need,” stated Robert Hoffman, Vice President for Government and Public Affairs at Oracle and Co-Chair of Compete America. “Senators Lieberman and Hagel should be commended for taking a leading role on an issue that is so important to America’s continued innovation leadership and economic strength.”

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