Congressional Roundup: H-1Bs, Seasonal Workers, Dream Act
The Senate recently passed legislation that would increase the H-1B education and training fee to $5,000 and allocate some previously unused green card numbers to nurses and physical therapists upon payment of a $1,500 fee. The House and Senate are now negotiating in conference the details of the legislation, which is part of Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2008. Reportedly, the fee hike and nurse allocations were removed in conference.
The fee increase was intended to fund additional scholarships for American students in mathematics, technology, and health care fields. Compete America said the tripling of the H-1B fee would make the H-1B program cost-prohibitive, especially for smaller businesses, but some IT workers’ groups countered that it would help to prevent displacement of U.S. workers for lower-paid foreign workers. The Wall Street Journal pointed out in an editorial published on November 2, 2007, that in addition to the hiring fee, current law already requires H-1B professionals to be paid the higher of the prevailing wage or actual wage paid to U.S. workers in similar positions. “So it’s not as if U.S. businesses pursue foreign engineers, computer scientists and the like because they’re cheaper to employ. Nor are these foreign workers overrunning the country and displacing Americans. In 2006, new H-1B professionals comprised 0.07 percent of the labor force.”
As noted last month, a newly introduced bill, the “Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act of 2007,” would continue to exempt returning seasonal workers from an annual numerical limit of 66,000, after the exemption’s expiration on September 30, 2007. This legislation, introduced by Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and John Warner (R-Va.), is supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and various business organizations.
Also, the Senate rejected, 52 to 44, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (Dream) Act, which would have provided undocumented children who were brought to the U.S. before the age of 16 with a path to permanent residence if they served in the military or completed two years of higher education. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), a supporter of the bill, said that “to turn on these children and treat them as criminals is an indication of the level of emotion and, in some cases, bigotry and hatred that is involved in this debate.”