The H-1B visa program has generated plenty of dialogue over the last few years, with tech companies that want more visas squaring off against folks who insist that H-1Bs damage the U.S. economy and that the application process needs an overhaul. Yet Congress has largely stood pat on the issue.
That appears about to change -- although it's unclear whether legislation that will allow more of the visas or proposals to make it tougher on employers applying for them will prevail.
We recently blogged about a bill introduced by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) that would require employers submitting applications for H-1B visas to jump through more regulatory hoops.
Other pending bills appear to side with President George Bush, who has long supported raising the current cap of 65,000 annual visas. Bills introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) would both exempt U.S. educated folks with certain advanced degrees from the cap.
Both bills would also permit more visas (a market-based cap, expanding or decreasing with demand, in Cornyn's bill, and a cap of 115,000 that could increase to 180,000 in any year that demand exceeds supply, in the Gutierrez/Flake proposal).
While we hate to appear wishy-washy, certain elements of all of these bills appear to make sense. The recent exhaustion of the annual visa limit on the first day that applications were accepted seems to indicate that more of them are needed. Yet making those applying for H-1Bs adhere to more requirements should help reduce the number of companies that appear to be willfully exploiting the system.
Though they aren't included in any bill, we also like some suggestions proposed by ZDNet blogger Jon Carroll. Among them: allowing H-1B holders to market their services to companies other than their employers in the U.S., and requiring H-1B holders, rather than the companies who employ them, to initiate and pay for visa renewals.