Date: Mon May 15 2000 - 08:03:44 PDT
From: Declan McCullagh <email@example.com>
The IEEE letter, which industry luminiaries including Linus Torvalds, Steve
Wozniak, and Esther Dyson (unwittingly?) signed:
Foreign Worker Debate Heats Up
by Lakshmi Chaudhry
3:00 a.m. May. 15, 2000 PDT
Some industry players are asking Congress to give foreign workers
green cards instead of increasing the number of employment visas, but
immigration advocates aren't cheering.
In an open letter to Congress, a number of technology bigwigs, along
with the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers (USA), said
companies should be allowed to hire workers on "conditional green
cards" rather than temporary work visas, such as the H-1B.
The idea is that any company planning to hire a foreign worker would
procure a conditional green card instead of a work visa. The long
process of determining the person's eligibility will take place while
the person is working in the country.
In the meantime, the employee will have all the same employment rights
as a permanent resident, which includes the ability to switch jobs,
work part-time, or start a business.
"I'm pro-immigration," said Ntonet CEO Ric Fulop, who signed the
letter along with luminaries such as Esther Dyson, Linus Torvalds, and
Steve Wozniak. "My aim is to increase immigration any way I can."
But immigration advocates say the proposal may be a smokescreen to
derail pending legislation that would increase H-1B visas.
And immigration advocates say industry professionals who signed on to
the letter should take a closer look at who is organizing and funding
"A letter sponsored by any other organization could be taken on face
value," said Judy Mark, communications director of the National
Immigration Forum, which advocates pro-immigration policy. "But the
moment I saw the IEEE on there, (the letter) became immediately
Immigration advocates are asking why an organization such as the IEEE
is signing on to an initiative that is supposed to liberalize
The IEEE has continually lobbied against the H1-B program, and opposes
increasing the number of foreign workers in the country.
"Two hundred thousand people are coming in (to the United States) each
year, when you're graduating 30,000 from your universities. Would you
like that in your country?" IEEE president Merrill Buckley said.
Buckley also considers industry estimates of the labor shortage to be
"vastly exaggerated." And he argues any shortfall in labor should be
met by training Americans.
"The Congress should be following the true interest of people who are
denied jobs because they are minorities or financially disadvantaged,"
"They're like any labor union," said Dan Griswold, a trade policy
expert at the libertarian Cato Institute, which advocates a "zero
controls" policy on immigration. "They don't want to allow in more
foreign workers because it is competition for their members."
He says the IEEE has no real interest in easing immigration controls,
and is using the initiative to oppose increases in the H-1B cap, which
seems sure to go through.
"The support is growing everyday. There is a strong bipartisan
effort," he said. "It's a political move to defuse the support for
raising the H-1B caps."
Buckley says any suggestion that IEEE is anti-immigration is
The letter itself was drafted by Paul Donnelly, organizer and
spokesperson of the Immigration Reform Coalition, which he describes
as a loose alliance of individuals and organizations spearheading the
"green cards not guest workers" initiative. While Donnelly declined to
specify who is in the coalition, he says IEEE is financing the
"The Coalition is an 'unincorporated entity,' which basically means
that the Coalition, as such, doesn't spend money. IEEE-USA pays the
bills, such as they are," Donnelly wrote in an email. "'Membership' in
that sense simply refers to folks who agree with us."
While Donnelly says the IEEE's position on immigration has been
misunderstood, at least some of the people who signed on have been
skeptical about its involvement.
"I've often wondered what the exact role of IEEE is in all of this,"
software engineer Atul Mathur said. "I've been following their views
on these issues and I don't agree with them."
Ntonet CEO Fulop said he told Donnelly to remove IEEE's name from the
website. "No one is going to come on board with their name there," he
But immigration advocates say Donnelly's own motives are equally
"He has a long background of associating with organizations and causes
that are trying to restrict immigration," Griswold said. "This fits in
with his track record."
National Immigration Forum's Mark points to Donnelly's role as
communications director of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform
in 1996, which Mark says advocated a 40 percent reduction in existing
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