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Clinton Seeks More Visas for Highly Skilled Workers

May 12, 2000|From Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON — President Clinton on Thursday asked Congress to increase the number of temporary visas for highly skilled workers to 200,000 for each of the next three years. He also wants to raise fees employers pay under the visa program to fund extra job training for U.S. technology workers.

Clinton's proposal, a roughly 75% boost over the current annual limit of 115,000 visas, comes as U.S. companies such as Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp. say they can't find enough skilled American workers amid the tightest labor markets in decades.

"The caps already have been hit, and there is clearly a greater demand than there is availability," said Gene Sperling, who heads Clinton's National Economic Council.

Democrats and Republicans alike support allowing companies to hire more overseas workers under the so-called H-1B visa program. Yet U.S. labor unions contend Americans will lose out on jobs, prompting Democrats in Congress to insist that any increase in the foreign-worker ceiling come with more funding to train Americans for computer, software and other technology jobs.

Under the White House plan, the $500 fee U.S. employers now pay for each worker hired under the H-1B visa program would rise to $2,000. For employers who use the program for 15% or more of their work forces, the fee would reach $3,000 per visa-holder.

Yet the exact contents of a final bill are the subject of dispute, particularly in the House.

A vote on the bill was put off this week after many Democrats and some Republicans voiced concern that U.S. workers still are being overlooked as Democrats and Republicans respond to the policy demands of big companies.

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