Trendlines from 4/15/08: New, Hot, Unexpected

In this issue: The cap on H-1B visas; Corporate mash-ups; Face-reading computers; The lapsing landline; China and RFID; Banning of social networks; The value of big monitors; Efficiency in IT shops; and By the numbers, including IT modernization.

Bill Would Double Cap on H-1B Visas

A bill before the U.S. Congress would double the number of immigrant worker visas available each year under the H-1B program.

The Innovation Employment Act, introduced last month by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., would raise the H-1B visa cap from 65,000 a year to 130,000 a year. In addition, there would be no cap on H-1B applications for foreign graduate students attending U.S. colleges and studying science, technology and related fields. Currently, there's a 20,000-a-year cap on visas for graduate students in all fields. The legislation would increase the H-1B cap to 180,000 in 2010 to 2015 if the 130,000 cap is reached the year before.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates called for an increase in the H-1B visa cap while testifying before the House of Representatives Science and Technology Committee in March. "We provide the world's best universities...and the students are not allowed to stay and work in the country," Gates said. The legislation "would boost America's competitiveness by giving U.S. employers the flexibility they need to hire the best talent available to fill a severe shortage of qualified U.S. high-skilled workers," the company said in a statement.

The bill would increase penalties for H-1B fraud and allows the U.S. Department of Labor to reject applications for "clear indicators of fraud," in addition to the current rule of rejecting only applications that are inaccurate or incomplete. It also puts important safeguards on the H-1B program in place, says C.J. Karamargin, a spokesman for Giffords. It would prohibit companies from hiring H-1B workers, then outsourcing them to other companies, he says. Opponents have complained that outsourcing companies are among the top users of H-1B visas. The legislation would also prohibit companies with more than 50 employees that have more than half of their staff as H-1B workers from hiring more H-1Bs, and it would prohibit employers from advertising jobs as available only to H-1B workers, Karamargin says.

Critics say the bill does little to address worker concerns. "It doesn't require any kind of labor market test—demonstrating that a shortage actually exists before hiring an H-1B," says Ron Hira, a public policy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology and former chairman of the Career and Workforce Policy Committee at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-USA. The bill also doesn't fix "serious problems" in setting wage floors for H-1B workers and does "nothing to curb the practice of companies bringing in computer programmers for $12 per hour to displace U.S. workers," Hira says. "If this bill were to be passed as written, it would do serious damage to the American information technology labor market."

-Grant Gross

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