Bill seeking H-1B cap hike gets House hearing

The measure would raise the annual limit to 115,000 visas, but its prospects appear grim

A U.S. House subcommittee today held a hearing on immigration reform legislation that includes a proposed hike in the federal government's annual H-1B visa cap from the current limit of 65,000 to 115,000 and potentially beyond.

But no one from the high-tech industry -- which is pressing for an H-1B increase -- was among the 12 people who were scheduled to testify. And the planned focus of the hearing seemed to be on broader aspects of immigration reform, according to written testimony that was released in advance.

In addition, the House bill is unlikely to be the vehicle for any increase in the H-1B cap -- not this year, at least. The Senate's attempt to craft a comprehensive immigration reform bill, also with a cap increase, failed earlier this year, and that body isn't expected to take up another proposal in the next few months. But H-1B proponents have said that a cap increase could be proposed in other types of legislation, such as spending bills.

Today's hearing concerned the STRIVE Act of 2007, for Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy.

The bill, introduced earlier this year by Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), would increase the number of H-1B visas that the government could issue to 115,000 per year right away and allow for 20% annual increases, up to a maximum of 180,000 visas, if the limit was reached. It also would exempt foreign nationals who earn graduate degrees in the U.S. from the H-1B cap.

Flake was one of the people expected to testify at the hearing, which was held by the House Committee on the Judiciary's Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law.

In his written testimony, Flake mentioned the H-1B program indirectly, arguing that the STRIVE legislation "addresses the failures and problems with past worker programs and charts a new course that better protects workers, while more effectively and efficiently meeting the needs of employers."

But Julie Kirchner, government relations director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform in Washington, said in her prepared testimony that an increased pool of H-1B holders would be competing for jobs with U.S. citizens.

"These provisions are a serious threat to high-tech workers in the U.S., including legal immigrants who have patiently waited their turn to take part in the American dream," Kirchner wrote.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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