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Cantwell Backs Increase in Skilled Workers to Boost U.S. Economy

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Location: Washington, DC

Senator joins Lieberman, Hagel in introducing legislation to expand H-1B visa program, prevent visa fraud and abuse

Tuesday, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell joined U.S. Senators Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) in introducing the Skilled Worker Immigration and Fairness Act of 2007. This bipartisan legislation would ensure that America's innovative industries can hire the workers they need to fuel U.S. economic growth. It will also do more to protect American workers.

The legislation would increase the annual allotment of H-1B visas, which provide American employers with access to highly educated foreign professionals in "specialty occupations" (those requiring at least a U.S. bachelor's degree or equivalent education and work experience). Despite dramatic changes to the U.S. economy over the past 17 years, the H-1B cap remains at its 1990 limit of 65,000 per year (an additional 20,000 visas are available for foreign nationals holding US graduate degrees). As a result, thousands of U.S. high-tech jobs remain unfilled.

"Keeping America's economy strong depends on having enough skilled workers," said Cantwell. "That means making sure education and training opportunities are affordable and accessible, but it also means getting help from the world's best and brightest when there are skill shortages. With so many high-tech companies in the Pacific Northwest, we need an H-1B visa process that meets employer demands as well as prevents fraud and abuse. This proposal strikes a balance on the H-1B visa program, which is key to investing in our future and keeping America competitive." "To remain competitive, American companies need access to highly educated individuals," Lieberman said. "But today's system makes it difficult for innovative employers to recruit and retain highly educated talent, which puts the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage globally. As part of comprehensive immigration reform, we must address this crisis to ensure that America remains the world leader in innovation. At the same time, we must strengthen the H-1B program to ensure that American workers are protected."

"The severe shortage of H-1B visas is a nation-wide problem, and Nebraska is directly affected. The demand in underserved communities throughout Nebraska for these highly qualified individuals, such as doctors and nurses in rural areas, far out number the supply. This legislation is important to helping keep America competitive in the 21st Century workplace," Hagel said.

The legislation introduced Tuesday would increase the cap to 115,000 in 2007 and would add a flexible adjustment mechanism that would enable to cap to rise as high as 180,000, depending on market conditions (this ceiling would still be less than the 195,000 limit in 2001-2003). Additionally, the bill would exempt from the cap foreign nationals who hold a U.S. graduate degree; a non-U.S. graduate degree in science, technology, engineering or math; or a U.S. medical specialty certification. The bill is also co-sponsored by Senator George Voinovich (R-OH).

In raising the H-1B cap, the bill would also create meaningful and reasonable reforms to prevent visa fraud and abuse. The bill includes provisions that would:

-Prohibit employers from advertising jobs as exclusively open to H-1B visa holders. -Provide that employers with 50 employees cannot have more than half of their workforce on H-1B visas. -Remove unnecessary restrictions on the Department of Labor's (DOL) ability to investigate H-1B compliance. -Authorize DOL to hire an additional 200 employees to administer, oversee, investigate and enforce the H-1B program. -Raise the H-1B petition fee by $500, to pay for enhanced enforcement and ensure the program pays for itself. -Authorize reasonable improvements to coordination among DOL, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of State (DOS).

The bill also allows the most highly qualified green card applicants to immigrate without being subject to artificial caps. Immediate families of employment based immigrants will no longer count against the worker caps.

The legislation enjoys support from a wide-range of businesses technology groups, including Microsoft Corporation and Compete America, a coalition of corporations, educators, research institutions and trade associations committed to assuring that U.S. employers have the ability to hire and retain the world's best talent.

"The nation continues to witness a dramatic decline in the number of native born computer science graduates," said Jack Krumholtz, Managing Director of Federal Government Affairs for Microsoft Corp. "As a result, technology companies like Microsoft rely on the H-1B visa and employment-based green card programs to deliver an adequate supply of highly qualified employees to help maintain our competitive position. That can only be achieved through immediate reform of these programs to ensure they are meeting the needs of our economy. We commend Senators Lieberman, Hagel, Cantwell and Voinovich for their leadership in addressing this critical problem, and urge the Senate to adopt these measures and pass expeditiously comprehensive immigration reform legislation."


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