NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Government Rules Put High-Tech Immigrants In Limbo

February 29, 2000

Tens of thousands of highly skilled immigrants enter the United States each year on temporary visas. Their visas, under the H-1B program as it is known, are often sponsored by high-tech companies which intend to employ them. But once here, they are in a sort of legal limbo.

If they try to switch companies or are laid off, they must start the immigration process all over again. Even the sponsoring company cannot promote them if it will change their basic job descriptions.

  • The annual allotment of temporary six-year visas has grown from 65,000 in 1990 to 115,000 in 1998 -- and it will temporarily increase to 195,000 if legislation now before the Senate is approved.
  • Existing limits have never been reached, however, because the Immigration and Naturalization Service has become increasingly unable to cope with its growing work load.
  • Consequently, the wait for a green card has stretched to several years -- with some immigration lawyers advising their clients to be prepared to wait for five year.
  • A green-card applicant must specify a job and an employer, which cannot be changed -- leading to what some workers describe as indentured servant status.

Personnel managers for high-tech companies argue that a pool of skilled immigrants is absolutely essential to their operations. Without that pool, some predict, U.S. companies would be forced to shift jobs abroad.

Labor unions, however, would like to see American workers trained to fill the jobs and the labor laws enforced -- rather than bringing in foreign workers.

Source: Sarah Robinson, "Workers Are Trapped in Limbo by I.N.S.," New York Times, February 29, 2000.


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