Semiconductor industry officials told Congress this week the U.S. chip industry could end up losing more American jobs if legislation is not passed to allow more foreign students, engineers, and scientists to work in the United States.
With the backing of the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), a group of CEOs from chip companies have urged the House and Senate to approve an immigration-reform bill, which would increase the number of six-year work visas available to trained foreign professionals -- including semiconductor engineers and researchers. The vote is expected to take place in May.
The SIA and its group of CEOs said the cap of 65,000 H1-B visas could be reached by the end of May.
"If Congress does not pass legislation to raise the visa cap, our companies will be forced to turn away some of the brightest graduates of American universities," said Daryl Hatano, vice president of international trade and government affairs with the SIA. "Having trained these foreign students in the United States -- in many cases at taxpayer-financed universities -- it would be foolish if U.S. companies could not hire them to alleviate our current shortage of critical skills.
"Instead of working to make America stronger, these engineers would be forced by the U.S. government into the arms of our foreign competitors," Hatano added.
Efforts to increase the number of foreign work visas have become controversial with critics saying American workers would end up losing jobs. The SIA's campaign also comes at a time when many chip companies are laying off workers or cutting back positions in the United States during the industry slump. SIA officials argue many of the jobs being cut are less-skilled manufacturing positions or non-technical functions. The trade group maintains highly skilled engineering and research positions continue to be difficult to fill.
Concerns about the loss of American jobs are off-base, according to Hatano, who testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims. "Highly skilled foreign engineers, whether U.S.- or foreign-born, actually create manufacturing, marketing, and administrative jobs throughout the United States," he said.
Hatano and representatives from U.S. universities and leading technology companies urged Congress to take immediate action to increase the 1998 allotment of H1-B visas. They said foreign professionals are in high demand throughout U.S. high-tech industries and are critical to the continued growth of American chip companies, which employ an estimated 2,000 foreign professionals through the visa program each year, according to the SIA.
Recently, the SIA-organized group of semiconductor CEOs sent a letter to congressional leaders, urging action. "Be clear about what is at stake," the CEOs said. "Failure to address current and future worker shortages could mean a loss of America's high-technology leadership in the world. A short-term solution is to raise the cap on the H-1B visa. The long-term solution, and one in which each of our companies is already engaged, lies in preparing more American students for the high-technology workforce of the future."