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[Congressional Record: September 21, 2000 (Senate)]
[Page S8885-S8933]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access []



                       H-1B High-Tech Legislation

  MR.KENNEDY: Mr. President, I'm pleased that the Senate is finally taking steps to 
debate and vote on the H-1B high tech visa legislation. Our nation's 
economy is experiencing a time of unprecedented growth and prosperity. 
The strong economic growth can, in large measure, be traced to the 
vitality of the highly competitive and rapidly growing high technology 
  I'm proud to say that Massachusetts is leading the nation in the new 
high tech economy, according to a recent study by the Progressive 
Policy Institute. Thanks to our world-class universities and research 
facilities, Massachusetts is a pioneer in the global economy of the 
information age. We are home to nearly 3,000 information technology 
companies, employing 170,000 people, and generating $8 billion in 
annual revenues.
  With such rapid change, the nation is stretched thin to support these 
new businesses and their opportunities for growth. Nationally, the 
demand for employees with training in computer science, electrical 
engineering, software, and communications is very high.
  In 1998, in an effort to find a stop-gap solution to this labor 
shortage, we enacted the American Competitiveness and Workforce 
Improvement Act, which increased the number of temporary visas 
available to skilled foreign workers. Despite the availability of 
additional H-1B visas, we have reached the cap before the end of the 
year in the last two fiscal years.

  We need to be responsive to the nation's need for high tech workers. 
We know that unless we take steps now to address this growing workforce 
gap, America's technological and economic leadership will be 
jeopardized. I believe that the H-1B visa cap should be increased, but 
in a way that better addresses the fundamental needs of the American 
economy. Raising the cap without addressing our long-term labor needs 
would be a serious mistake. We cannot count on foreign sources of labor 
as a long-term solution.
  These are solid, middle class jobs that Americans deserve under the 
H-1B program. The median salary for H-1B high tech workers is $45,000. 
Approximately 57 percent of H-1B workers have earned only a bachelor's 
degree. More than half of these workers will be

[[Page S8908]]

employed as computer programmers and systems analysts. These are not 
highly specialized jobs. They do not require advanced degrees or years 
of training. American workers are the most productive workers in the 
world. It makes sense to demand that more of our workers be recruited 
and trained for these jobs.
  Mr. DURBIN. Will the Senator yield for a question?
  Mr. KENNEDY. Yes, I am happy to yield.
  Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I thank the Senator for the comments he is 
making. I ask him if he would draw a historical parallel to the 
situation we faced in the late fifties, when the Russians launched 
Sputnik and we, as a nation, decided to devote resources into a 
National Defense Education Act, so that we would have the scientists 
and engineers to be able to compete then with the Russians in the space 
race. President Kennedy followed on with our exploration into space.
  Aren't we facing a similar challenge today regarding whether we will 
be able to compete in the 21st century with the scientists and 
engineers and skilled employees with all the other nations competing 
for the very best jobs?
  Mr. KENNEDY. The Senator is exactly right. That is why, when we do 
have the measure before us, we will offer amendments to try to develop 
the support in the Senate, and also in the House, for the funding of a 
program that will help ensure that this deficit, in terms of the highly 
skilled who are being addressed by the H-1B visa, will be eased. We 
will utilize very effective services. For example, the National Science 
Foundation, which has a good deal of skill and understanding and 
awareness in giving focus and attention to encouraging highly 
specialized vocations and support for these types of programs.
  We will welcome the opportunity to join with my friend from Illinois 
in bringing this to the attention of the Senate when we actually have 
the measure before us. We are very hopeful that we will have the 
opportunity to address it and not have steps taken in the Senate that 
will foreclose both the debate and discussion on this issue.
  The fact is that the great majority of these H-1B jobs have good, 
middle-income salaries, and they are the kinds of jobs that would 
benefit any family in America. For a number of reasons, which I think 
many of us are familiar with, we have not developed the kinds of 
training programs and support programs for the development of the 
skills in these areas that we need. But the question that will be 
before us is, Should we throw up our hands and say we won't do that and 
we will depend upon a foreign supply of these workers in the future?
  I think not. I think we should take the steps now to make sure this 
provision actually becomes an anachronism.
  Perhaps we will also need opportunities for those who have the very 
highly specialized skills to come here and to benefit and fit into some 
aspect of either industry or academia. We ought to recognize that. But 
to rely on the kind of jobs where only 57 percent of H-1Bs earned a 
bachelor's degree and the average income is only $45,000--this is a 
long way from those. I think most Members of the Senate and I certainly 
think most Americans would say H-1B is a superscientist that is going 
to go to a very specialized company or that will generate thousands of 
jobs. That may be true for very few that are included. But the fact is, 
for the most part, these are the kinds of jobs that can be filled with 
American labor if they have the right kind of skills, and we ought to 
be able to develop that effort as we go into this program.
  We also hear countless reports of age and race discrimination as 
rampant problems in the IT industry. The rate of unemployment for the 
average IT worker over age 40 is more than 5 times that of other 
workers. Just when we should be doing more to bring minorities into 
technology careers, we hear that organizations in Silicon Valley cannot 
get companies to recruit from minority colleges and universities, or 
hire skilled, educated minorities from neighboring Oakland. The number 
of women entering the IT field has also dramatically decreased since 
the mid-1980s. If the skill shortage is as dire as the IT industry 
reports, we can clearly do more to increase the number of minorities, 
women and older workers in the IT workforce.
  Any credible legislative proposal to increase the number of foreign 
high tech workers available to American businesses must begin with the 
expansion of high-skill career training opportunities for American 
  Now more than ever, employer demand for high-tech foreign workers 
shows that there is an even greater need to train American workers and 
prepare U.S. students for careers in information technology. As 
Chairman Alan Greenspan recently stated,
  The rapidity of innovation and the unpredictability of the directions 
it may take imply a need for considerable investment in human capital . 
. . The pressure to enlarge the pool of skilled workers also requires 
that we strengthen the significant contributions of other types of 
training and educational programs, especially for those with lesser 
  When we expanded the number of H-1B visas in 1998, we created a 
training initiative funded by a visa fee in recognition of the need to 
train and update the skills of members of our workforce. Today, as we 
seek to nearly double the number of high tech workers, we must ensure 
that legislation signed into law includes a significant expansion of 
career training and educational opportunities for American workers and 
  I propose that we build on the priorities in current H-1B law. The 
Department of Labor, in consultation with the Department of Commerce, 
will provide grants to local workforce investment boards in areas with 
substantial shortages of high tech workers. Grants will be awarded on a 
competitive basis for innovative high tech training proposals developed 
by workforce boards collaboratively with area employers, unions, and 
higher education institutions. Annually, this program will provide 
state-of-the-art high tech training for approximately 50,000 workers in 
primarily high tech, information technology, and biotechnology skills.
  More than ever, today's jobs require advanced degrees, especially in 
math, science, engineering, and computer sciences. We must encourage 
students, including minorities to pursue degrees in these fields. We 
must also increase scholarship opportunities for talented minority and 
low-income students whose families cannot afford today's tuition costs. 
We must also expand the National Science Foundation's merit-based, 
competitive grants to partnership programs with an educational mission. 
Equally important, closing the digital divide must be a part of our 
effort to meet the growing demand for high skilled workers.
  The only effective way for Congress to responsibly ensure more high 
skill training and scholarships for students is to increase the H-1B 
visa user fees. High tech companies are producing record profits. They 
can afford to pay a higher application fee. According to public 
financial information, for the top twenty companies that received the 
most H-1B workers this year, a $2,000 fee would cost between .002% and 
.5% of their net worth. A $1,000 fee would cost them very little. 
Immigrant families with very modest incomes were able to pay a $1,000 
fee to allow family members to obtain green cards.
  The H-1B debate should not focus solely on the number of visas 
available to skilled workers. It should also deal with the professional 
credentials of the workers being admitted. It makes sense to expand the 
number of H-1B visas to fill the shortage of masters and doctoral level 
professionals with specialized skills that cannot be easily and quickly 
produced domestically. We should insist that a significant percentage 
of the H-1B visa cap be carved out and reserved for individuals with 
masters or higher degrees.

  In the days to come, we will have the opportunity to debate these 
issues and pass legislation that meets the needs of the high technology 
industry by raising the visa cap and also by ensuring state-of-the-art 
skills training for American workers. Clearly, however, the immigration 
agenda is not just an H-1B high-tech visa agenda. Congress also has a 
responsibility to deal with the critical issues facing Latino and other 
immigrant families in our country. To meet the needs of these 
immigrants, my colleagues and I have introduced the Latino and 
Immigrant Fairness Act.

[[Page S8909]]

  The immigrants who will benefit from this legislation should have 
received permanent status from the INS long ago. These issues are not 
new to Congress. The Latino community has been seeking legislation to 
resolve these issues for many years. The immigrant community--
particularly the Latino community--has waited far too long for the 
fundamental fairness that this legislation will provide.
  This measure is also critical for businesses. All sectors of the 
economy are experiencing unprecedented economic growth, but this growth 
cannot be sustained without additional workers. With unemployment 
levels at 4 percent or even lower, many businesses find themselves 
unable to fill job openings. The shortages of highly skilled, semi-
skilled and low-skilled workers are becoming a serious impediment to 
continuing growth.
  Information technology companies are not the only firms urging 
Congress to provide additional workers. An equally important voice is 
that of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, a consortium of 
businesses and trade associations, and other organizations, including 
the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, health care and home care associations, 
hotel, motel, restaurant and tourism associations, manufacturing and 
retail concerns, and the construction and transportation industries.
  These key industries have added their voices to the broad coalition 
of business, labor, religious, Latino and other immigrant organizations 
in support of the Latino and Immigrant Fairness Act. Conservative 
supporters of the Act include Americans for Tax Reform and Empower 
America. Labor supporters include the AFL-CIO, the Union of Neeletrades 
and Industrial Textile Employees, and the Service Employees 
International Union.
  All of the major Latino organizations support the bill, including the 
Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National 
Council of La Raza, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and 
the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. 
Religious organizations include a broad array of American Jewish 
groups, the U.S. Catholic Conference, and Lutheran Immigration and 
Refugee Services.
  The Latino and Immigrant Fairness Act includes parity for Central 
Americans and Haitians. In 1997, Congress enacted the Nicaraguan 
Adjustment and Central American Relief Act, which granted permanent 
residence to Nicaraguans and Cubans who had fled their repressive 
governments. The act provided other similarly situated Central 
Americans and Haitians with the opportunity to apply for green cards 
under more difficult and narrower standards and more cumbersome 
  It is unfair not to provide the same relief for all immigrants 
seeking safe haven in the United States. Fairness requires that we 
address this grave injustice. As Congresswoman Carrie Meek said on the 
floor of the House of Representatives ``Nicaraguans, Cubans, 
Guatemalans, and Salvadorans . . . live next door to each other in some 
of our communities [but] one will get a green card and the others 
cannot. One could seek citizenship after 4 to 5 years; the others 
cannot. Is that fair? My answer is no, it is not fair.''
  Senator Mack, Senator Abraham, and others said, ``Last year, we 
adopted legislation to protect Nicaraguans and Cubans. But Haitians 
were unfairly excluded from that bill. The time has come for Congress 
to end the bigotry. We must remedy this flagrant omission and add 
Haitians to the list of deserving refugees.''
  There it is, Mr. President, those who have reasonable access: Cubans 
and Nicaraguans; those who have unreasonable access, Salvadorans, 
Guatemalans, Haitians, Hondurans, and immigrants from Eastern European 
countries. We have the support from the Chamber of Commerce and from 
the AFL-CIO to bring this in. With H-1B legislation we are looking out 
for the high tech industry; why not look out for other industries, as 
well? We had a strong indication of support by two Republican Senators 
last year when this was passed. Yet we are being denied the opportunity 
by the Republican leadership to bring this matter before the Senate. We 
are being denied the opportunity by the Republican leadership to have a 
vote on it. We will agree to a time limit. They are denying even the 
chance to bring it up. That is wrong. That is unfair. It is unjust.
  We are going to do everything we possibly can to remedy that through 
other parliamentary means. The idea that we are bringing up one 
particular proposal to look at high tech--and I am all for those 
provisions, and stated my support for them--and saying we should be 
able to deal with this issue and expand the job opportunities for other 
Americans, while on the other hand, saying absolutely no, we are going 
to set up a parliamentary situation where we are absolutely denied the 
opportunity to bring that up. It is supported by the religious and 
business communities, and has had the support of Republican Senators, 
but we are being denied the opportunity to bring it to the floor for a 
vote. It is wrong. It is unfair. The American people ought to 
understand it.
  Not only are we failing to deal with some of the key issues which are 
at the heart of the American families' concerns, but we are refusing to 
be fair on this issue with regard to the Latino and Immigrant Fairness 
provisions. The Latino and Immigrant Fairness Act will create a fair 
and uniform set of procedures for all the immigrants from the region 
who have been in this country since 1995.
  It is important to remember the recent history of why people in 
Central America and Haiti fled from their homes. In Guatemala, hundreds 
of so-called ``extra-judicial'' killings occurred every year between 
1990 and 1995. Entire villages ``disappeared.'' Most of the villages 
were probably massacred. In El Salvador, an end to 12 years of civil 
war has not meant an end to violent internal strife. Ironically, the 
death toll in 1994 was higher than during the war. In Honduras, the 
Department of State's Human Rights Report cites ``serious problems,'' 
including extra-judicial killings, beatings and a civilian and military 
elite that has long operated with impunity. Haiti has been ruled by 
dictators for decades. In September 1991, Haiti's first democratically-
elected government was overthrown in a violent military coup that was 
responsible for thousands of extra-judicial killings over a three-year 

  The idea that we have discriminatory provisions in our immigration 
laws is nothing new. I remember in 1965 when we passed the Immigration 
Act, which eliminated the Asian Pacific triangle, a provision that went 
back to the old Yellow Peril days. In 1965, we permitted only 125 
Asians to come into the United States. We effectively excluded Asians 
from their ability to immigrate here. We gave preferences to others. 
Who did we give preference to? To those who qualified under the 
national origin quota system that was based upon the ethnic 
  The immigration laws in our country historically have been filled 
with these inequities, and we have been battling to try and make them 
fair and just. Now we are refusing to eliminate one of the most glaring 
discriminatory aspects that has ever existed in our immigration laws, 
and we are being denied that opportunity on the floor of the Senate by 
the Republican leadership. That is fundamentally wrong.
  Providing parity for immigrants from countries in Central America and 
Haiti will help individuals such as Ericka and her family. In 1986, 
when Guatemala was in the midst of a civil war, Ericka's father was 
abducted and disappeared. He is presumed dead. The rest of the family 
fled to the United States for safety. When Ericka joined her mother in 
1993, she was a minor and could be included in the family's asylum 
application. Her family now qualifies for permanent residence under 
NACARA. However, because Ericka is 21, she no longer qualifies under 
this law and will therefore remain in legal limbo--or worse, be 
deported back to Guatemala.
  This is happening every single day. She lives in fear of being sent 
back to the country where her father was killed. Her life here is in 
limbo. She graduated from high school and has dreams of going on to 
college. But without permanent residence, she cannot qualify for 
scholarships. Passage of the Latino and Immigrant Fairness Act will 
enable her to remain in the United States with her family and continue 
her education.

[[Page S8910]]

  The Latino and Immigrant Fairness Act will also provide long overdue 
relief to immigrants, who because of bureaucratic mistakes, were 
prevented from receiving green cards long ago. That is one aspect of 
the bill. Listen to this and wonder why we can't address this aspect of 
the law.
  In 1986, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, 
called IRCA, which included legalization for persons who could 
demonstrate that they had been present illegally in the United States 
since before 1982. There is a one-year period to file. However, INS 
misinterpreted the provisions in IRCA, and thousands of otherwise 
qualified immigrants were denied the opportunity to make timely 
  Several successful class action lawsuits were filed on behalf of 
individuals who were harmed by these INS misinterpretations of law. The 
courts required the INS to accept filings for these individuals. One 
court decision stated:

       The evidence is clear that the INS' . . . regulations 
     deterred many aliens who would otherwise qualify for 
     legalization from applying.

  They went to court. The court found for them. We are talking about 
300,000 individuals. The court found for them and said: You are 
qualified, you got misinformation from the agency that was supposed to 
administer this. We apologize. Go ahead and apply.
  Then what happened? The ink was not even dry and in 1996, the 
immigration law stripped the courts of the jurisdiction. The Attorney 
General ruled that the law superseded the court cases. As a result of 
these actions, this group of immigrants have been in legal limbo and 
fighting government bureaucracy over 14 years.
  We are denying them the opportunity to make the adjustment of their 
status. Our bill will alleviate this problem by allowing all 
individuals who have resided in the United States prior to 1986 to 
obtain permanent residency, including those who were denied 
legalization because of INS' misinterpretation, or who were turned away 
by the INS before applying.
  Consider Maria. Maria, who came to the United States 18 years ago, 
has been living in legal limbo with temporary permission to work, while 
courts determine whether she should have received permanent residence 
under the 1986 legalization law. Maria now has a U.S. citizen son who 
suffers from a rare bone disease that confines him to a wheel chair. As 
a result of the changes in the 1996 immigration law, Maria has now lost 
her work permit. Her father recently passed away in El Salvador, but 
her tenuous legal status did not permit her to return there to pay her 
last respects. All Maria wants to do is legalize her status and 
continue to work legally to support her family and pay her son's 
medical bills. Without the passage of this legislation, Maria faces an 
uncertain future.
  This bill will also restore section 245(i), a vital provision of the 
immigration law that permitted immigrants about to become permanent 
residents to apply for green cards while still in the U.S. for a $1,000 
fee, rather than returning to their home countries to apply.
  Section 245(i) was pro-family, pro-business, fiscally prudent, and a 
matter of common sense. Under it, immigrants with close family members 
in the U.S. are able to remain here with their families while applying 
for legal permanent residence. The section also allows businesses to 
retain valuable employees, while providing INS with millions of dollars 
in annual revenue, at no cost to taxpayers. Restoring Section 245(i) 
will keep thousands of immigrants from being separated from their 
families and jobs for as long as ten years.
  America has historically been open and welcoming to immigrant 
populations seeking to build new lives, free from the fear of 
persecution and tyranny. The Latino and Immigrant Fairness Act builds 
on that tradition, by restoring fairness to the immigrant community and 
fairness in the American legislative process. This legislation will 
regularize the status of thousands of workers already in the U.S., 
authorize them to work --that is what this is all about, obtaining a 
Green Card so they can work, pay taxes--and create a policy that is 
good for families and good for this country. It will correct past 
government mistakes and misdeeds that have kept hard-working immigrant 
families in bureaucratic limbo for far too long.
  This is legislation that cannot wait. Families are being torn apart 
because we have failed to take the necessary steps to pass the Latino 
and Immigrant Fairness Act. Before the August recess, Democrats 
attempted to bring this legislation before the Senate, but the 
Republican leadership objected. Just last week, Democrats were prepared 
to debate and vote on this legislation as part of the high-tech visa 
bill, but our Republican colleagues were unwilling to bring this 
measure to the floor and take a vote. They prefer to talk about their 
support for the Latino community, rather than take tangible steps to 
benefit immigrant workers and their families.
  Few days remain in this Congress, but we are committed to doing all 
we can to see that this legislation becomes law this year. Passage of 
this bill will be a victory for all who believe in justice, fairness, 
and the American dream.
  There may be individuals who want to take issue with those 
observations I have made. We would be glad to debate them. We had, 
under the Democratic leader's proposal, indicated a willingness to 
limit amendments to, I believe, five amendments and to have short time 
agreements on all of those. We could have disposed of this whole 
legislation and done it in a way that would have expressed the will of 
the Senate. Instead, we are spending all week on it. We are spending 
virtually the whole week. With 3 weeks left, we are spending a whole 
week on this legislation and are still failing to deal with the 
fundamental issues of fairness which are within the legislation, 
although we will have an opportunity to deal with it, and that is the 
Latino and Immigrant Fairness Act.
  I hope we will have that chance. I am confident Senator Daschle will 
give us that opportunity. We look forward to debating these issues. But 
we ought to be able to do that in the sunshine on the open floor of the 
Senate. Maybe there are those who differ, who believe this is not an 
issue of fairness. Maybe there are those who say we ought to have a 
dual standard, one standard for the high-tech industry and a different 
standard for those who basically track their heritage to Spanish 
  I cannot speak about what the reservation is, but I fail to be 
persuaded by any of the arguments I have seen so far about why we 
should not have fairness, the Latino and Immigrant Fairness Act, as we 
are having fairness in the H-1B. Maybe there are those who will want to 
engage in that discussion and debate. I will look forward to 
participating in that as well.