What: All Issues : Labor Rights : Outsourcing of American Jobs Overseas : S 1348. (Immigration overhaul) Amendment by Sanders of Vermont that would raise the fees on certain visas and use the revenues for a math and science scholarship program/On agreeing to the amendment (2007 senate Roll Call 179)
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S 1348. (Immigration overhaul) Amendment by Sanders of Vermont that would raise the fees on certain visas and use the revenues for a math and science scholarship program/On agreeing to the amendment
senate Roll Call 179     May 24, 2007
Progressive Position:
Yea
Progressive Result:
Win
This vote was on an amendment offered by progressive Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., that would raise the H-1B visa fee for certain larger companies that seek to hire technology industry workers from overseas. It would raise the fee from $1,500 to $3,000.  (Sanders’ original amendment would have raised the fee to $10,000, but he later decided to reduce the amount to secure support for his amendment from the Democratic leadership.)

The revenues from that fee hike would be used to fund a $15,000 annual math and science scholarship program for U.S. citizens and some legal resident aliens.  The H-1B visa is intended to attract skilled professionals to the United States when there are no other American workers that could fulfill that job (generally in technology fields).  The amendment was offered to a bill intended to overhaul America’s immigration system; among many other provisions, the bill would raise the cap on how many H-1B visas may be issued annually from 65,000 to between 115,000 and 180,000.  Silicon Valley giants such as Intel and Microsoft say raising the cap is a dire necessity to help remedy the shortage of skilled American technology workers, such as software developers.

However, Sanders said that in practice the visas are being used to undermine the American workforce by allowing companies to import technology workers that are willing to work for vastly smaller wages than their American counterparts. Echoing a sentiment expressed by many Democrats and organized labor, Sanders said these visas mean cheap labor for big companies at the expense of American workers who are competing for the same jobs.

“The truth is that most of the H-1B visas go to people who do not have a Ph.D., who do not have a master’s degree, but only have a bachelor’s degree, a plain old college degree,” Sanders said. “ The amendment I am offering has two goals. First, raising the H-1B visa fee … will go a long way in telling corporate America they are not going to be able to save money by bringing foreign professionals into this country. Secondly … this new revenue will be dedicated toward providing scholarships to students who are studying in areas where we currently lack professionals.”

No one spoke against the amendment.  Once Sanders modified the amendment to reduce the H-1B visa fee raise, Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., who helped author the bill, took the floor to express his support.  “The Senator has brought this up to a much more reasonable amount. I think he has made a very strong case for it. These funds will be used to make sure we get Americans being able to do those jobs. That is what the purpose is: to see we have Americans able to do those jobs, those H-1B jobs. It makes a great deal of sense,” Kennedy said.

By a vote of 59-35, the Senate voted to adopt the amendment.  Most Democrats supported the amendment, though three did not (Max Baucus of Montana, Evan Bayh of Indiana, and Ben Nelson of Nebraska).  A majority of Republicans voted against the amendment, however a significant number voted for it (13), including many senators from Southern states.  Thus, the amendment was adopted, raising the fee for certain companies to obtain an H-1B visa for foreign technology workers to $3,000 and establishing a new math and science scholarship program with the proceeds.
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