US government plans to import more high-tech workers from abroad have been scuppered by the opposition of a single Senator.
Two weeks after celebrating a surprise Clinton Administration decision to back an increase in the number of H-1B visas, Silicon Valley companies have learned the US Senate has been blocked from even voting on the bill by Senator Tom Harkin. The bill had already been passed in the House of Representatives.
If, as seemed likely, the Senate had voted to pass the bill, President Clinton had said he would sign it, allowing an increase in the number of visas from 65,000 to 115,000 each year until 2001 before reverting to the current level in 2002.
The problem proponents of the increase now face is Congress is in its last days of existence before November 3 elections and members are concentrating mainly on Budget matters. The H-1B temporary visa issue is less of a priority than the possibility of tax cuts and education reform.
It is believed there are behind the scenes efforts taking place to try and persuade Harkin to change his mind. The Iowa Democrat said he blocked a vote because he no longer believed there was a need for importing workers.
On the day of his action, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, which has been fiercely lobbying against increasing the number of visas, wrote to each senator citing statistics that showed the electronics, computer and telecommunications industries in 1998 had amassed 143,000 layoffs and constituted three of the top five industries in total job-cut announcements.
In addition, said the IEEE, third-quarter data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that electrical-engineering unemployment jumped to 3.4 percent -- more than an eight-fold increase since the beginning of 1998 and the highest rate since the record-high levels of 1994.
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