With H-1B in limbo, congressional backers push green card fix

Head of key House committee has introduced three bills in two months

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Microsoft Corp. has about 4,000 employees for whom it is trying to gain permanent residency, said Jack Krumholtz, managing director of federal government affairs at Microsoft. They face long waits because of the green card backlog, suffering personal and professional frustrations along the way, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates testified.

"We only hire people that we think can contribute to our innovation and corporate bottom line over the long haul, so we move immediately to apply for green cards for you and your family members," said Krumholtz, who said Microsoft is supporting Lofgren's legislative effort.

The typical path for a tech worker is, first, work after graduation on a student visa — a period that was recently extended by the Bush administration from a year to 29 months — and then an H-1B visa until employment-based permanent residency can be achieved.

Other legislative steps taken by Lofgren include a bill that would take unused employment-based green cards and essentially roll them over for reuse in a subsequent year. That bill is HR 5882. There are Republican co-sponsors for each of these bills.

Lofgren's across-the-aisle backers of these bills include U.S. Reps. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).

Ron Hira, an assistant professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, said he believes the U.S. can absorb more highly skilled, permanent immigrants with green cards "without significantly harming the American workforce. But we have to do it the right way."

Among the issues, said Hira, is the thorny question of, "Who are we going to grant employment-based permanent residence to?" Educational level attained (bachelor's, master's or Ph.D.) and the academic area studied by potential residents are apt to be factors in that.

Hira said that one "significant problem" with the Lofgren bills "has to do with using exemptions as a way around tackling the decision of how many [to grant]," and he added the plan to "recapture" was a gimmick to get around the quota issue. Among the questions Congress should look at, said Hira, is the impact of the changes; he indicated, for instance, that the legislation may change incentives, prompting foreign nationals to seek degrees from any U.S. school they can because it will be seen as a path to permanent residency.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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