Ceiling Lifted on Foreigners, While U.S. Minorities Still Underrepresented in High-Tech Field
More so than ever before, employers are seeking foreign workers to fill skilled jobs that go unfilled in the United States. But the trend is prompting debate about how better to focus federal attention on education and job training — including the role of minority-serving colleges.The latest source for the debate is congressionally approved legislation to allow more H-1B visa applications for foreigners who fill high-skill jobs in the United States. President Clinton signed into law the new bill, which raises the number of allowable visa applications and sets higher fees for the privileged. With the proceeds, the United States will support math and science scholarships for low-income youth and provide about $200 million in targeted new investments in job training activities.Yet some say the new legislation is a missed opportunity to collect even higher fees and to focus on the need to attract young adults of color for high-tech jobs.“I think we missed a very valuable opportunity,” says Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, a Congressional Black Caucus member. African Americans and Hispanics are under-represented in key technology jobs, and demand for foreigner visas presents an opportunity to focus attention on this neglected issue.“African Americans are only 11 percent of the high-tech industry, and they continue to be underemployed,” she says. But the new bill has no requirement that U.S. companies do more to recruit and support historically Black colleges or Hispanic-serving institutions or to raise the number of qualified minorities in these jobs.Under the bill, fees would increase from $500 to $1,000 for an H-1B visa application, and the legislation also would raise the number of applications allowed. While the bill provides potential funding for job training, lawmakers of color believe more should be done to develop the pool of U.S. workers.The new bill promises to increase the digital divide, largely “because we do not have the infrastructure” to train at-risk youth and adults for quality jobs, says Rep. Eva Clayton, D-N.C., another CBC member. “We have to invest in our children. We have to invest in our workers,” she adds.The visa bill cleared Congress last month, and President Clinton recently signed the legislation. Even before the bill’s passage, the federal government had committed some visa resources toward job training. In fact, the U.S. Labor Department recently awarded a series of grants to local agencies to promote job training with visa funds. For more information, visit the Labor Department’s Web site <http://www.doleta.gov>.
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