IEEE-USA Responds to Senate Immigration
By Russell Harrison
Congress is embroiled in
debate over immigration reform, with a spate of bills currently
under consideration. Central to this debate is Sen. Arlen Specter's
(R-Pa.) bill (S. 2454).
Because Sen. Specter is Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee,
which exercises jurisdiction over immigration issues, his bill is
the most likely to be acted upon.
Specter’s bill is primarily concerned with illegal,
low-skill immigration. In addition to a number of provisions
designed to improve enforcement of existing immigration laws, the
Specter Bill includes an “earned legalization” provision. Championed by President Bush,
this program would allow people who are in
the United States illegally, but who have a job and no criminal record, to
achieve legal status.
IEEE-USA does not have a formal position on any of
these major and well-publicized provisions. The association
generally does not take positions on public-policy initiatives that
do not uniquely affect engineers.
S. 2454 does include a number of less-publicized
provisions that will affect engineers and on which IEEE-USA has taken
positions, such as the creation of a new F-4 visa; expanding the existing EB-1 and EB-2 visas; and
the H-1B visa program.
F visas enable foreign students to study at
American colleges and universities. The new F-4 visa will be
available to students who receive a Masters or Ph.D. from an American
college or university in science, engineering, math, technology or
related fields. The F visa allows these students to become permanent
residents with green cards, once they find a job.
EB visas are permanent residency visas (green cards)
for highly-skilled foreign workers, including engineers. Specter’s
bill would remove the cap on these visas for professionals with
Masters and Ph.D.s from American schools in science, math, engineering,
The most controversial of Sen. Specter’s proposals
is expanding the H-1B visa program. Currently capped at 85,000
annually, Specter would raise this cap to 135,000. He also
introduced a “market-based” cap adjustment, whereby whenever the
current year's cap is
reached, the following year the cap would automatically increase 20
percent. However, the bill doesn't include any provision for a downward adjustment when the cap is
IEEE-USA has taken a strong stand against this
change to the H-1B program, and has been a leading voice in
Washington for reforming the H-1B visa program. In a letter to the
Senate, and in testimony before the House, IEEE-USA has reminded
Congress about the numerous flaws in the program, especially the
long list of government reports that have described the need for
reforms. Specific problems with the H-1B visa include:
lack of any enforceable requirements that
companies try to hire American workers before turning to the
lack of an effective requirement that H-1B
workers be paid the prevailing American wage for their work
the absence of any enforcement authority that
would allow the Department of Labor to police the program
IEEE-USA also has two larger conceptual problems
with the program. First, temporary visas do
nothing to improve the skill base of the American economy. H-1B
visas are used to bring talented people into this country to work
for up to six years — but do not let them stay or help them become
citizens. When the H-1B visa expires, workers must leave the United
States, taking their training and experience with them — unless they
have been able to secure some other visa status.
The second broad problem with the H-1B visa program
is who controls the visas? Companies, not individuals, apply for and
receive permission to use the visas. Once companies
receive the visas, they find people to use them. But control of
the visas remains in the hands of the company, not the workers using
them. Because companies can withdraw the visas from any employee at
any time, for
any reason, exposing them to deportation, H-1B workers have little
leverage with respect to decent wages or working conditions. Such
unnecessarily exposes H-1B workers to exploitation.
IEEE-USA has expressed support for the new F-4 and
expanded EB visas as reasonable alternatives for proposed H-1B
increases contained the Specter bill. Because these visas offer permanent residency for
skilled foreign workers, they avoid many of the pitfalls that have
H-1B program. Permanent immigration visas allow talented non-American
workers to become a permanent part of our economy, strengthening the
IEEE-USA thinks expanded F-4 and EB programs would
be beneficial to the American engineering profession in the
long-run, but the organization does not believe that those benefits
would outweigh the harms of an expanded H-1B program.
Engineers who are concerned about H-1B visas or the
Specter Bill should contact their legislators to express their
opinions. IEEE members can use the IEEE-USA Legislative Action
to send e-mails to Congress.
How does IEEE-USA decide what its position will be
on technology-related public policy issues?
The process starts with IEEE-USA’s
technology policy committees. Each year, IEEE-USA's
president appoints volunteers to run these seven
committees, which include members appointed by IEEE
technical societies, and at-large members with
expertise in the subject area. All U.S. IEEE members (Regions 1-6)
are entitled to participate on these committees.
While the number of formal seats is limited, each
committee may have an unlimited number of
“corresponding” members, who can fully participate
in committee deliberations, but lack a formal vote.
The technology policy committees draft formal position
statements explaining the positions IEEE-USA
has taken. These statements include background on an
issue and a detailed explanation of why the
committee has chosen to endorse a particular policy.
Once position statements are
approved by the committees, they are reviewed by the
IEEE-USA Technology Policy Council, which is chaired
by IEEE-USA's Vice President for Technology Policy
Activities. If approved, they are then presented to
IEEE-USA's Operating Committee for endorsement, then
to the IEEE-USA Board of Directors for final
approval. Prior to final approval, IEEE-USA seeks
the comments of the IEEE Presidents, who have the
option of referring the position to the IEEE Board
of Directors for review. After all approvals and
reviews are completed, IEEE-USA can publicly promote
All IEEE-USA position statements and
policy committees can be found at
Russell T. Harrison
is IEEE-USA's Legislative Representative for Grassroots Activities.
Comments may be submitted to