News Column

Visa Program to Resume

April 2004, HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine

Patricia Guadalupe

The Bush administration will this month begin accepting applications for the H-1B professional visas for fiscal year 2005, having suspended the program for several months because it had reached the congressionally imposed quota of 65,000 visas per fiscal year. The 2004 quota was reached in less than five months. The popular H-1B visas are issued largely to fill highly skilled positions in the technological field, but have been a subject of criticism from opponents who assert the program is used as an excuse to pay foreign workers less than their U.S. counterparts. Congress had once raised the limit to 195,000, but that expired in 2000, and the slow U.S. economy has not made the program politically popular enough to raise the quota during an election year.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), chair of the powerful Foreign Relations Committee, says that the Bush administration needs to pay more attention to the Western Hemisphere. "Venezuela, Bolivia and Haiti face serious challenges," and "the importance of Mexico to the prosperity and security of our nation continues to be misunderstood and undervalued by Washington policymakers in both the executive and legislative branch," Lugar said during hearings on foreign aid funding."Regionally we need to pay more attention to the problems in Latin America. We're not taking them (the region) seriously." Lugar was responding to testimony by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who said that the Bush administration had to cut back on funding to Latin America because there are "other priorities that are more important." Lugar noted that while the war on terrorism was important, "the Mexican-U.S. relationship should be moved up (and) become a greater priority."

Legislators meeting recently with Cuban officials in Havana said that next year would be "a very productive year for U.S. legislation on Cuba," adding that "little progress" would be made this year because of presidential and congressional elections. Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and Rep. C.L."Butch" Otter (R-Idaho), who are among the members of Congress who support lifting the embargo that the United States maintains against Cuba, lead a delegation of Idaho officials to the island. "We repeated our support for lifting the ban on exports to Cuba and U.S. travel (to Cuba)," Craig told Congress Daily, a congressional publication. "But this is not the year because of the elections."

The National Council of La Raza held its first Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C., to push for congressional consideration of several pending issues before the end of the legislative session, which will close earlier than usual to allow members to campaign in the November congressional and presidential races. NCLR says politicos need to take the community seriously if they want Hispanic votes this fall. "There are many issues of concern to the Hispanic community, such as education and immigration that still need to be discussed," said Cecilia Muņoz, NCLR vice president for research, advocacy and legislation. "We want concrete answers and action. They should tell us whether it can be done or not, and not just go around eating tamales and saying a few nice words in Spanish, and think that'll be enough to get Latino support."

President Bush's proposal in January to revamp the nation's immigration system continues to draw mixed reaction, with several polls illustrating divisions, and organizations gathering to strategize options. A January survey commissioned by the United Neighborhood Organization of Chicago found 50 percent of Hispanic respondents said they believe the plan to allow illegal immigrants to step forward and work for three years is a step in the right direction, while 32 percent disagreed. The New California Media organization said a poll conducted by Bendixen & Associates and sponsored by the James Irvine Foundation in January also found mixed reactions, with a majority of respondents saying they had heard of the plan (74 percent) and supported it (42 percent); about 38 percent said they either were not aware of the plan or did not have an opinion. The survey found that opposition nearly doubled when respondents were told that the temporary workers would likely have to return to their home countries at the end of the 3-year allowance (45 percent opposed; 45 percent in favor). Meanwhile, the League of United Latin American Citizens met with leaders from the Global Evangelical Task Force and Nueva Esperanza to discuss strategy and launch a nationwide campaign for immigration reform. "Our goal is to pass by June 2004 a bipartisan bill to bring hardworking, tax-paying undocumented families out of the shadows with a clear option to permanent residence and citizenship," said Brent Wilkes, LULAC executive director.


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