Presidential candidates agree on increasing H-1B visas
By Mike Sunnucks
The Phoenix Business Journal, September 1, 2008
Arizona Republican John McCain and Illinois Democrat Barack Obama differ on plenty of economic issues — energy, taxes and trade, to name a few. But the presidential wannabes agree when it comes to allowing more skilled foreign workers into the U.S. under H-1B visas.
Intel Corp., Microsoft Corp., Google Inc., and other technology and engineering companies want to boost or eliminate the annual 85,000-worker cap on H-1Bs.
McCain wants to get rid of the cap, echoing the tech industry's call for a market-based system to bring in foreign workers many say are needed to fill scientific, engineering and high-tech jobs.
'Sen. McCain continues to be a strong supporter of H1-B expansion, but mere expansion is not enough. Reforms should eliminate the artificial limits and allow a level of visas appropriate for market conditions,' said McCain campaign spokeswoman Ivette Barajas.
Obama supports a temporary increase in H-1Bs. He also favors allowing more legal immigration into the U.S. and making it easier for foreign students who attend college in the U.S. to stay and work after they graduate.
H-1B visas are good for six years, with possible six-year extensions. They require employers to sponsor them. Top H-1B sponsors include Microsoft, Enterprise Business Solutions Inc., Yahoo Inc., Hewlett-Packard Development Co. LP, Intel, IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp.
Jenny Verdery, director of work force policy for Intel in Washington, said both McCain and Obama have voiced support for more H-1Bs. She wants to see the caps eliminated and replaced with a market-based system of supply and demand, or have certain key professions such as engineering exempted from a cap system.
'We continue to hit the cap each year,' Verdery said.
Intel, which has significant operations in the Valley, employs 46,000 U.S. workers and gets about 350 H-1B visa approvals each year. The federal government received 163,000 petitions for this year's crop of 85,000 H-1Bs.
McCain and Obama's support for more H1-Bs worry some who are concerned the visas displace American workers with less expensive foreign labor.
'For American tech workers who want to keep their jobs from being outsourced or given away to H-1Bs, Obama and McCain are disastrous choices,' said Rob Sanchez, creator of the Chandler-based Job Destruction Newsletter, which tracks immigration issues.
Sanchez said Obama voiced his H-1B support during recent fundraisers with Indian-American investors and tech CEOs in San Francisco. Sanchez said former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fioarina — top McCain backers — also support more H-1Bs.