With America's economy running on all cylinders, the federal government is threatening to restrict some of its fuel. In mid-August the Immigration and Naturalization Service quit issuing work permits to foreign-born professionals, a group including engineers, health care providers, and other highly educated individuals. The reason: The annual quota of 65,000 work permits set by a 1990 immigration reform law may have been filled. At press time, the INS was double-checking its count.
With potential labor shortages prompting complaints by businesses in many industries, this seems like a strange time to turn away skilled hands eager to work. It's even stranger to restrict job opportunities in high-tech industries, which have been a major source of new jobs in the current recovery.
The semiconductor industry alone reports a need for 40,000 skilled workers. The broader information technology field needs nearly 200,000 trained workers, notes a recent report by the Information Technology Association of America.
"The 65,000 cap was picked at a time when both unemployment [rates] and the high-tech industry were a lot different," says Intel's Jenifer Eisen. Her company hired 10,000 people last year and plans to add another 13,000 to its payroll by the end of 1997. "Economic conditions have changed. There should be a way to devise a system where we are not keeping out valuable workers who create wealth for America."