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October 15, 1998

H-1B VISAS BILL CLEARED FOR PASSAGE

By CBR Staff Writer

The Senate has cleared the way for a bill that increases the number of foreign workers allowed to enter the US under the H-1B visa program. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives last month but rejected by the Senate last week. Now, it has been inserted into Congress’s omnibus spending package and should soon find itself on president’s desk. Under the bill the number of visas that may be issued would rise from its current level of 65,000 per year to 115,000 in 1999 and 2000, 107,000 in 2001 and back down to 65,000 in 2002. The bill that was passed on Tuesday represents a compromise between the Clinton administration and industry, which has put a lot of money and lobbying power behind it; the older version of the bill also peaked at 115,000 a year but did not let the numbers fall back to 65,000 until 2003. The Clinton administration, afraid to pass a bill that would allow immigrants to fill highly paid American jobs, even if there aren’t enough Americans to fill them, argued that it would do too much harm to the US workforce. Those in favor of the bill argued that there is still, and will still be, a skills shortage and that the approximately $75m raised from issuing the visas could be channeled into developing high-tech skills in low-income American students and the workforce. The bill includes measures to protect US workers by requiring companies to take significant steps to recruit domestic workers and by increasing the penalties on companies who lay-off American workers and replace them with immigrants.

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