Wednesday, September 06, 2000

High-tech industry presses for more worker visas




Gannett News Service

        WASHINGTON — A Congress rushing to finish the year's business could damage the high-tech economy if it fails to ease immigration rules for highly skilled workers, the nation's lead technology lobbying group said Tuesday.

        “With the election season now upon us, time is running short, so expeditious action is paramount,” said William Archey, head of the American Electronics Association, which represents 3,500 tech firms.

        Congress returned to work Tuesday after its August recess with members hoping to wrap a daunting backlog of business by October, including 11 major spending bills.

        Just a few months ago, a boost in the immigration quota for high-tech workers sought by software and other firms appeared to be on the fast track to passage. But over the summer, a move by the Clinton administration to tie reforms to amnesty provisions for Central Americans and wariness toward an expansion of high-tech visas by politically potent Latino groups has stalled action.

        Tech firms' use of the special visas to woo overseas technology workers exhausted this year's quota of 115,000 visas by March. With a backlog of applications, a new allotment of 107,000 visas scheduled to be made available Oct. 1 should be used up by Christmas, the association said.

        With the number of Americans who obtain high-tech degrees falling, with unemployment at record low levels, and with the demand for skilled workers exploding, only an expansion of immigration rules will keep the high-tech economy prospering, Mr. Archey said.

        The main legislation to double the number of so-called H-1B visas is sponsored by Reps. David Dreier, R-Calif., and Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. But even those two have quarreled in recent months over proposals to expand the legislation to include other immigration issues.

        Mr. Archey said a delay of any visa reform could seriously impair the ability of the technology sector to continue as the engine behind record economic growth. He said Congress should also con sider allowing foreign graduates of American universities to stay and work without tapping the quota of special visas.

        Mr. Archey said it is equally important that the Senate approve House-passed legislation to extend permanent normal trading status to China, a move seen as critical to open China's markets to U.S. tech exports.

        While the bill enjoys broad Senate support, a series of amendments to link the measure to labor issues and business ethics could scuttle the measure's chances this year, Mr. Archey warned.

       



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