Senate Progresses on H-1Bs, Democrats Object

The Senate voted 94-3 today to end debate on a bill which would increase the number of H-1B visas, typically granted to foreign high-tech workers who come to the U.S. for jobs, paving the way for a final vote on the bill before the end of Congress' session, scheduled for next week. But, as of the middle of Tuesday, debate had not ended due to a late-added amendment by Senate Democrats.

The vote to end debate -- a motion called "cloture"-- came on an amendment to The American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act (S.2045) which will allow an additional 80,000-130,000 H-1B visas to be granted to non-immigrant workers for fiscal years 2000-2002. Currently the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service allows 115,000 such visas per year.

Introduced in the Senate by Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, the bill would add, on top of the 115,000 already allowed, 80,000 H-1B visas in 2000, 87,500 in 2001 and 130,000 in 2002. H-1B visas are temporary visas granted to foreign workers with specific, desirable skills.

After the vote, however, a number of prominent Democrats, including Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Tom Daschle of South Dakota, introduced the Latino and Immigrant Fairness Act of 2000 as an amendment to the H-1B visa bill. The act would grant a citizenship hearing, rather than immediate deportation, to a number of undocumented immigrants from certain Latin American and African countries.

High-tech industries have been major backers of the effort to raise the cap on H-1B visas, as they say that hiring foreign workers is the only to fill all of their job openings with properly qualified people.

Also included in the H-1B visa bill is a provision that will require the National Science Foundation to conduct a study of the "digital divide"-- the disparity in access to technology in the U.S. -- and submit a report to Congress within 18 months.

As of the middle of the day Tuesday, no decision had been made in the Senate, leaving the status of the H-1B visa bill unresolved.

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