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Immigration Advocates Warn of Impact from Change in US Foreign Worker Visa Policy - 2003-09-23

Unless the U.S. Congress acts by the end of this month the number of visas given to foreign workers in the United States next year will be dramatically reduced.

The change in visa policy goes into effect on October 1 and will reduce the number of H1B visas from 195,000 to 65,000. These are visas given each year to foreign workers with special skills, education or other qualifications that put them in demand here in the United States. High technology companies in particular have recruited foreigners and have asked Congress not to cut the number of H1B visas.

Houston immigration attorney Ann Pinchak, who represents a number of such people, says there are many areas of the U.S. economy that benefit from the foreign workers.

"Those H1B visas are not just used for people in hi-tech, they are used for all kinds of professional workers and occupations where there are not enough Americans," said Ms. Pinchak.

She says companies in the oil and oil services industries here in Houston often hire workers from other nations who have special skills in such areas as deep sea drilling. But she says not all foreign workers benefiting from this visa are highly specialized. She notes that some schools have filled classroom shortages by hiring foreign teachers, mainly from Canada.

The move to cut the H1B visas had broad bipartisan support in Congress because of reports that many technology workers in the United States had lost their jobs in the economic slowdown. But Ann Pinchak says many jobs could go unfilled because there are no qualified people available.

"In some positions there are Americans who are out of work, but in other positions, for example teachers, those in the offshore industry, those who work in the deep sea, there is a shortage and it is very difficult to find Americans with that expertise," she explained.

Immigration attorneys, some high technology industries and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have asked Congress to allow for more visas, but there appears to be little hope that Congress would even address the issue in the week that remains in this federal fiscal year. Immigration attorneys say there will likely be a lot of competition between U.S. companies for the visas that are available in the coming months especially if the economy improves and the demand for foreign workers increases.