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WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar will introduce legislation Tuesday to increase the number of skilled foreign workers in the United States.
Klobuchar, D-Minn., will co-sponsor with Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah a proposal to increase the number of visas available to foreigners employed in specialty occupations from 65,000 per year to 115,000.
These so-called H-1B visas allow companies to temporarily employ noncitizens for three years with a possible three-year extension.
The bill that Klobuchar and Hatch will introduce also removes a cap on H-1B visas issued to foreigners who have received advanced degrees from U.S. colleges and universities. Right now, the limit is 20,000 per year.
The legislation seeks to stop what some consider a brain drain in which immigration laws keep highly trained foreigners from filling U.S. jobs necessary to sustain this country's economic strength.
Many of those foreigners go to school here but are forced to return to their home countries or others countries to work.
"We are basically training our competition," Klobuchar said in an interview. "We are getting people to go to our universities, and if they don't have a job immediately, we send them back to their country so they start the next Google in India."
The bill she and Hatch will offer requires major employers to look first for American workers before hiring from other countries. But right now, Klobuchar believes there are not enough Americans to fill certain kinds of jobs.
"In the future," she said, "we hope we can."
Klobuchar said the bill will set aside $3 billion in visa fees over the next 10 years to pay for science, technology, engineering and math education programs in the United States.
In the meantime, the new bill will make it easier for H-1B visa holders by letting their dependent spouses also work in the United States. Another incentive will make it easier for visa holders to move between jobs.
Finally, the bill proposes to make more "green cards" available. Green cards confer permanent residence on foreigners living in the United States.
Right now, if there are more permanent residence slots than applicants for them, the slots disappear after a year. Klobuchar would like to reclaim slots lost to the Great Recession and also establish a policy for the future to add any unused slots to the next year's allotment.
She said she has talked to people at a number of Minnesota businesses about her bill and found support. But she acknowledged some in the United States worry that any expansion of immigration policy will take jobs away from Americans.
"There are people who don't like immigration reform, period," Klobuchar said. "I think the time has come, and we're in a situation that we want to be a country that makes stuff, invents things and exports to the world. And we need the world's talent to do that. "
Jim Spencer • 202-383-6123