House Immigration Bill Would Overhaul H-1B Visa Program

Nearly 90 members of the U.S. House of Representatives are co-sponsoring an immigration reform bill that would make broad changes to the H-1B visa program.

The proposed legislation would create a federal agency to review U.S. employment needs, create a new type of visa for founders of start-up companies and increase the supply of H-1B visas. But despite a long list of co-sponsors, the bill is far from passage.

The technology industry has tried in recent years to get Congress to expand the annual pool of H-1B visas beyond the current cap of 65,000, but the effort has been stymied by proponents of comprehensive immigration reform who don't want to lose votes for a broader bill.

Whether this 700-page bill will get the support of either the tech industry or H-1B critics is unclear. Both sides may find things to love and hate in its basket of provisions.

One clause that may win tech industry support calls for the release of all the H-1B visas that went unused from 1992 to 2008 -- a total of about 309,000, according to a source who has seen some details of the bill.

But this House bill, dubbed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act, also incorporates parts of other bills that impose restrictions on H-1B use and call for tougher enforcement.

The proposal would create a new, independent federal agency, to be called the Commission on Immigration and Labor Markets, that would establish "employment-based immigration policies that promote economic growth and competitiveness while minimizing job displacement, wage depression and unauthorized employment."

In particular, the new agency would make recommendations to Congress about caps for H-1Bs and other types of visas.

A competing immigration bill is expected from Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security.

Schumer, a longtime supporter of the H-1B program, is expected to introduce his bill in the spring.

This version of this story originally appeared in Computerworld's print edition. It's an edited version of an article that first ran on

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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