High-tech Companies Seek to Hire More Foreign Workers

SPENCER MICHELS, NewsHour Correspondent: Business leaders in Silicon Valley and other high-tech centers say they need more foreign workers to keep America competitive. Microsoft's chairman Bill Gates made the case before Congress this spring.

BILL GATES, Chairman, Microsoft: Now we face a critical shortage of scientific talent. And there's only one way to solve that crisis today: open our doors to highly talented scientists and engineers who want to live, work and pay taxes here.

SPENCER MICHELS: The law allows 65,000 specialized workers, ranging from engineers to architects, and even including fashion models, into the U.S. each year, plus another 20,000 graduate degree holders. They, plus some categories like teachers not included in the cap, get what is called an H-1B visa.

With that temporary pass, they can stay and work here for up to six years. Today, there are more than 260,000 H-1B employees in the U.S.

Companies insist they need foreign workers because there are not enough qualified Americans to fill the jobs.

ROBERT HOFFMAN, Oracle Corporation: The Senate and the House have made this issue a high priority.

SPENCER MICHELS: Robert Hoffman is a lobbyist for software maker Oracle, which currently has about 1,850 H-1B employees. He says the company needs software and computer engineers right away.

ROBERT HOFFMAN: Companies like Oracle and Microsoft have hundreds of job openings currently right now. We want to hire the American worker, but if they're not there, what alternatives do we have? Either we hire the H-1Bs, or if the H-1Bs aren't available, we'll have to move work offshore. We'll move the work where the workers are.

SPENCER MICHELS: According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service's Sharon Rummery, the demand this year for H-1B visas was enormous.

SHARON RUMMERY, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: On the very first day that the H-1B visa became available, we received more applications than we had available slots. As it turned out, we got more than 119,000 H-1B visa applications.

SPENCER MICHELS: So what do you do?

SHARON RUMMERY: When that happens, we go to a computer-generated, random selection process.

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