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US Congress members push Gates's line on visas

Bills urge more H-1Bs for foreign tech workers

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Bill Gates's call for US Congress to up the H-1B visa quota sparked two proposed bills by the close of last week.

Two members of the House of Representatives have introduced bills to address the tech workers shortfall that the Microsoft chairman again bemoaned on his trip to Washington last Wednesday.

Late last week a Democrat on the Science and Technology Committee presented a bill that would double the current amount of H-1B visas as well as relax other restrictions from 2008 onwards.

Texan Republican Lamar Smith then stepped in with an even more radical bill, called the Strengthening United States Technology and Innovation Now (or Sustain) Act in which he urged the House to triple the H-1B cap from 65,000 to 195,000 for 2008 and 2009.

Echoing Gates's speech last week, Smith said in a statement: "When high-tech companies and firms go to American universities to recruit, they seek the best graduates regardless of their nationality.

"In many cases, the best students are foreigners. By denying them positions here in the US, we let many talented and highly educated workers take positions with our competitors overseas. That is not good for business and it is not good for the American economy."

In the other bill, put forward by US Representative for the Eighth District of Arizona, Gabrielle Giffords, the H-1B cap would be pushed up to 130,000 from this year onwards.

That bill could let in many more foreign workers because it would exempt from the cap anyone who received a master's or doctorate from a US university in technology-related fields. There will also be provisions made for up to 20,000 extra visas for people who graduate in relevant subjects from universities outside of the US.

Gates gave his views on the need for education and immigration reform in testimony before the US House Committee on Science and Technology last week.

He argued that relaxing the restrictions on visas would address the shortage of scientists and engineers in the US. Gates called for the period of time that foreign students can work in the country after graduation to be extended. ®

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