Bills Would Affect the Hiring of Skilled Foreign Workers

U.S. businesses would have to pay the federal government at least $10,000 for each skilled foreign worker they hire, under immigration legislation pending in the Senate. A provision in the bill would impose a fee—10 percent of a skilled immigrant worker's first-year pay or $10,000, whichever is greater—on businesses for each hire. The provision also would cut by onethird the annual number of employmentrelated visas.

Proceeds from the fees would be earmarked to fund job-training and education programs to help U.S. workers qualify for the kinds of jobs employers now seek to fill with skilled foreign workers. The provision, which is strongly opposed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups, is pail of an immigration bill sponsored by Sen. Alan K. Simpson, R-Wyo. The measure is designed to reduce the amount of legal immigration allowed each year and to bolster efforts to curb illegal immigration. The Senate Judiciaiy Committee is expected to consider the measure soon.

A House immigration bill sponsored by Rep. Lamar S. Smith, R-Texas, would not impose a fee for hiring skilled foreign workers; it is scheduled for floor debate in late April. Overall, the two bills would reduce total legal immigration from the current level of <X( (0,000 a year to about (500,000 to f> 10,000. The bills also would provide about 100,000 slots annually for the next few years to diminish an immigration waiting list of relatives of those who have immigrated under a 1986 law. In addition, the measures would cut employment-related visas—to 90,000 (Senate bill) or 135,000 (House)—from the current maximum of 140,000 a year and would eliminate the 10,000 visas allowed annually for unskilled workers. The fee plan involves foreign workers in the H-1B category, which provides visas for up to sLx years. The Simpson overhaul plan has been criticized by business leaders, including William H. Gates III, chairman of Microsoft Corp. Echoing others in the business community, he has called it an absolute disaster" and said its passage would lead many companies to take production overseas.

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