In October, I joined George Scalise, president of the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), in signing a letter urging Congress to increase the permanent "employment-based immigrant visa cap" for foreign high-tech professionals (www.ieeeusa.org/policy/policy/2007/101107.pdf).
A month later, our position was seriously mischaracterized in an Electronic Design opinion piece by Contributing Editor Sam Davis ( "IEEE Agrees with SIA on H-1B Visas for Foreign Engineers, Scientists"). From the headline to writing that we "joined forces to urge Congress to pass the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007," the work was fraught with factual errors regarding IEEE-USA’s position.
IEEE-USA for many years has maintained a consistent policy of supporting reforms to the employment-based permanent immigration system, rather than deepening our national dependence on a short-term work permit that conveys no residency rights to the workers using it.
IEEE-USA also supports the H-1B and L-1 visa reforms outlined in 2007 legislation introduced by Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). And we continue to work with Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), who is preparing to update the H-1B reform legislation he introduced in 2005. Neither bill calls for increasing the H-1B cap. Rather, both seek to fix H-1B-related problems and plug loopholes that numerous reports have documented, shortcomings that hurt both foreign and domestic engineers.
With respect to the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, IEEE-USA lobbied Congress to include employment-based immigration reforms and anti-H-1B abuse provisions in that bill, but did not take a position either supporting or opposing its passage because it encompassed many issues, such as illegal immigration and border security, that were not within our immediate scope of concern.
By equating our pro-immigration position with support for guest worker visas, Mr. Davis’ commentary has confused readers about the distinction between an immigration visa (EB visas) and short-term work permit (H-1B). EB visa holders are free to work for whomever is willing to hire them. They also can change jobs freely. H-1B holders, by contrast, are essentially tied to the employer who initially applied for the visa. With an H-1B, the employer holds the visa, not the employee.
While we acknowledged our different approaches to the H-1B issue in the joint letter, we were pleased to find common ground with SIA on legal permanent immigration because we both want to strengthen America’s high-tech enterprise. We concur that a strong U.S. engineering workforce is good for our nation.
For the same reasons, IEEE-USA worked hard with SIA and other groups to support comprehensive competitiveness and innovation legislation signed into law this August. The "America Competes Act" authorizes substantial increases in federal support for research in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and related U.S. educational programs. When funded, the new law will create high-paying jobs in the United States and help America maintain its global leadership in science and technology.