NEW YORK -- The high-tech industry has already used up 2000's full-year quota of 115,000 H1B special visa applications for technical and scientific workers, officials of the Semiconductor Industry association said here Monday.
George Scalise, SIA president, said exhausting the special technical visa annual quota in one month is evidence of the severe labor shortage in the industry. He said semiconductor firms take about 5% of the H1B visa quota workers, but compete with the rest of the high-tech industry for these applications.
SIA and other high tech groups are working together to lobby Congress for a new legislative approach to ease the strict limitations on visas granted for foreign technical workers, Scalise said. One proposal under discussion is to change the legal definition on how foreign technical workers are defined for the purposes of visa applications.
Another would allow a greater number of visas to be granted for foreign workers with the same level of education and at the same salary level as existing U.S. employees at the same company. Scalise said chip companies routinely adopt equal-pay practices for H1B visa foreign workers, and would automatically qualify for any of the new terms and conditions added to the visa law. Some U.S. engineering professional groups have charged that domestic firms use the H1B visa program to recruit foreign workers at lower wage levels to avoid paying higher salaries to American employees.
The current H1B visa law allows 115,000 special visas for technical workers for 2000 -- with the quota already filled - and drops to a visa quota of 107,000 in 2001. Unless the law is amended, the H1B quota falls to the original level of 65,000 that existed before being boosted a year ago.
Daniel Larson, Texas Instruments Inc.'s director of government relations, said the special visa program is critical in order to meet the severe shortage of engineers and scientists in the U.S. high-tech industry. He said engineering graduates at U.S. colleges and universities fell in half from 1987 to 1998. Foreign graduates comprise 40% of all engineering baccalaureate degrees, and 50% of all advanced degrees.
SIA and member companies have been promoting a special initiative with K-through-12 grades to motivate greater enrollment in mathematics and science curriculum. "We find if we don't capture students' interest in technical studies in these lower grades, it is too late to attract them towards engineering and scientific degrees in college," Larson said.