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5/18/2007
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Tech Workers Fund Drive To Block H-1B Increase

The group is critical of Microsoft chairman Bill Gates in particular for his request that Congress increase the number of so-called H-1B visas available to foreign tech workers.

A labor group that represents information technology workers has launched a fund-raising drive in an effort to block any new legislation that would increase the number of foreign tech workers eligible to work in the United States.

The group, Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (WashTech), an affiliate of Communication Workers of America, is attempting to raise $12,000 to place an ad in Congressional Quarterly condemning such legislation.

The ad the group wants to run criticizes Microsoft chairman Bill Gates in particular for his request that Congress increase the number of so-called H-1B visas available to foreign tech workers. "Gates said that there should be no limit at all on the number of H-1B visas issued," the ad states.

"Thousands of highly educated and skilled U.S. hi-tech professionals have lost jobs and are unable to find new work because companies like Microsoft want to hire cheaper foreign labor," the ad contends.

WashTech's campaign comes at a time when immigration reform is in the spotlight. On Thursday, Senate Republicans and Democrats reached agreement on legislation that would give illegal immigrants in the United States a pathway to permanent residency. It would also establish a point system based on education and skill levels to be used in assigning priority to green-card applications.

The agreement does not address H-1B numbers specifically, but the tech industry is hopeful that it will create a framework for discussion on the issue. A spokesman for the Information Technology Association of America on Friday said that the group "applauds the Senators for their hard work in reaching a bi-partisan starting point and are pleased that they are addressing business immigration reform."

ITAA members include Microsoft, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and other tech giants, virtually all of which are pressing Congress to increase the number of H-1B visas granted each year. The program is currently capped at 65,000 per year.

Tech worker groups like WashTech and Allliance@IBM--an IBM employee association -- oppose raising the H-1B limit. They argue that the program is causing unemployment among U.S.-born tech workers.

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