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Despite soft economy, a call for foreign tech workers

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Since 1993, 48 foreign-born radical Muslims have been charged, convicted, or named as being involved in terrorism in the United States. None of them entered the country using an H1-B visa.

That's a relief to Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America. This lobbying group successfully fought in Congress three years ago to expand the number of foreign programmers and other skilled workers that high-technology companies could hire under the H1-B program.

At that time, the high-tech industry was booming. Mr. Miller held that there was a severe shortage of Americans to do the well-paid, computer-related work. So Indians, Taiwanese, South Koreans, Chinese, and other foreigners were essential to fill these posts.

Since then, the information technology industry (IT), especially its dotcom side, has suffered a sharp downturn. Last year, IT firms laid off 2.6 million workers and hired 2.1 million. The size of the IT workforce shrank from 10.4 million to 9.9 million.

As a result, hundreds of thousands of IT workers are jobless or work in other fields. Yet from Oct. 1, 2001, to March 30, 2002, employers applied to the Immigration and Naturalization Service to bring in 105,800 more foreign workers.

To Norman Matloff, a computer-science professor at the University of California, Davis, this hiring of foreigners is mostly unnecessary with so many Americans, including graduates in computer science, available.

To Mr. Matloff, it reflects the desire of high-tech companies to get cheaper and more malleable foreign workers. "The recession has given them more incentive to save money," he charges.

Matloff is wrong, Miller says. "The employer community is being very responsible. They did not abuse the program. This is not just a cheap-labor program."


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