Monday, Nov. 22, 2004 | 10:40 a.m.
A push by some federal lawmakers to extend a yearly cap on temporary visas for highly skilled foreign workers is necessary to make sure American businesses can attract the talent they need to compete, company executives and immigration lawyers say.
But one local out of work computer programmer says allowing more foreign skilled workers is unfair to people like him, adding to the supply of workers chasing scarce jobs.
Jordan Stevens, a computer programmer who hasn't worked full-time in his field in three years, sees the proposed extension as a way for companies to improve their bargaining position with prospective employees, an unnecessary federal move that would hurt American workers.
Stevens said he moved to Las Vegas less than a year ago after hearing about Southern Nevada's record economic and job growth. He said his last full-time job was a one-year stint in Sweden after losing his previous job in Silicon Valley. He said daily job searches have not turned into any full-time job prospects.
Stevens said there is no need for more H-1B visas, temporary visas for highly skilled foreign workers in special occupations, and that use of such workers lowers salaries and industry standards for workers.
"When the industry says, 'We need more H-1B visas,' What that says is, 'Let's see if we can get the salaries lower,' " Stevens said. "The more workers you have in the workplace the lower the salaries because in America workers are commodities, unlike in other countries where they're treated like humans."
Foreign workers who work under an H-1B visa must have a bachelor's degree or higher. They often work in high-tech fields, but they also work in a variety of professional roles in many industries including medicine, engineering, education and science.
The worker needs to be sponsored by the employer, who performs the application process on behalf of the worker. The longest a worker can stay under an H-1B visa is six years with some exceptions. The Congressionally-set 65,000 cap on H-1B visas for fiscal year 2005 was reached on Oct. 1, the first day of the fiscal year.
Congress passed a new spending bill Saturday that will allow exemptions for 20,000 temporary workers with master's or higher degrees if President Bush signs the measure.
In the past, Congress has expanded the cap on H-1B visas. In fiscal years 2001, 2002 and 2003 the cap was expanded to 195,000.
David Thronson, associate professor of law at UNLV's William S. Boyd School of Law and co-director of the school's Immigration Clinic, said an extension of the cap of H-1B visas is good for the economy.
"This is the way to capture the best and the brightest," Thronson said. "If we don't capture these foreign workers we're going to lose competitiveness."
Arte Nathan, senior vice president and chief human resources officer of Wynn Resorts, said the hotel-casino company has used such workers. He said company's need for H-1B visa workers is minimal, although certain positions warrant them.
"We have targeted needs where we're looking for specific individuals who have specific credentials," Nathan said. He said workers with H-1B visas often work in such positions as European pastry chefs and performers in Southern Nevada's resort entertainment industry.
Nathan said the legalities of H-1B visas are something human resources professionals must understand.
"If you're in the recruiting business you have to understand visas," Nathan said. "You have to sensitive to the quotas and the process."
Some high tech professional organizations have spoken out against the proposed increase in the cap of H-1B visas. Such groups contend that companies are pushing for an extension on the cap for high-tech workers in order to create a surplus of workers.
"They want workers to be like the buffet line," Kim Berry, president of the Programmer's Guild, said. "From the company's perspectives they always like the surplus of workers and H-1B visa workers are like indentured servants."
He said such workers must remain with the company for the three years the visa lasts, after which the company and the worker have the option for an extension for up to another three years. The group represents the interests of technical and professional workers in information technology (IT) fields.
A press release from IEEE-USA, a section of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. that supports the interests of the group's American members, says U.S. tech workers have benefited from fiscal year 2004's more stringent 65,000 cap on the workers.
The group points to statistics compiled by the U.S. Labor Department Bureau of Labor Statistics that show that the number of unemployed high tech workers has fallen by 92,000 between the first and fourth quarters of 2004.
In Nevada, 2,680 H-1B visas have been applied for since October 2000. Such employers as Wynn Las Vegas, UNLV, International Game Technology, Aristocrat Gaming and MGM Mirage are some of the Las Vegas Valley's larger employers that have applied for them. Representatives of International Game Technology, Aristocrat Gaming, UNLV and MGM Mirage could not be reached for comment.
Medical companies are among the most frequent applicants for the visas.
While he looks for a permanent job, Stevens said he and his wife are struggling on whatever work he can get. He said that although he has a master's degree in computer science from the University of California, Los Angeles, he has only been able to obtain part-time contract work for far less pay than his former positions.
Stevens said he and his wife are currently living on funds they received after refinancing their home. He said he plans to move to the East Coast soon to try his luck at getting a job in networking, a computer-related field in which he will need to pay to get additional certifications.
"This year is worse than last year," Stevens said. "Yes it was bad after Sept. 11, 2001, but it hasn't gotten any better. I'm trying to retrain myself to do things that can't be outsourced. I'm trying to do networking. You can't outsource a networking job, you can H-1B visa it. That would be a serious threat to me."