"In the early years of education, the emphasis on math and science seems to be the same in both countries. But maybe in the United States, the emphasis on the practical side is a bit more." -- Harpreet Singh Ahuliawalia
Proponents say the bill is necessary because the number of U.S. citizens qualified or willing to accept such jobs is dangerously low and will remain so until Americans are properly trained in math and science. In the meantime, those unfilled jobs may have to be shipped overseas.
Opponents say there is no shortage of skilled high-tech workers in the U.S. and that the visas discourage American youth from entering the field and discriminate against older workers.
A second bill, which raises the application fee for the visas, was also passed. The revenue generated from the fee hike will be used for worker education initiatives aimed at teaching U.S. citizens the skills they need to compete for technology-related jobs.
We talked to four professionals on the front lines to find out what they think about the visas, how the visas work, if they are necessary and why.
Jenny Verderi "The United States wants skilled professionals. They produce the best software and they are short of skilled professionals."
"In the United States, the job opportunities are more compared to India because India is very over-populated."
-- Akshat Goyal
Jenny Verderi is manager of education and workforce policy at Intel.
"Certainly for the continued growth of productivity for high-tech companies like Intel that are relying on a highly skilled workforce, it's very important. We are not able to find enough qualified U.S. workers in certain disciplines year after year, particularly in the science and engineering areas."
"You can look at generic, even aggregated data that the government publishes, and they say that the number of jobs exceed the number of available qualified workers, now and for the next short term. If you look at it from a micro level, like at our own hiring and recruiting efforts, there has been a shortage in the areas that we hire at for quite some time -- and that's primarily master's and Ph.D. design engineers."
"Kids don't go into [math and science] ... the reason that kids don't go into math and science is not because we're bringing in foreign nationals to take jobs that are master's and Ph.D. level. Some of the reasons kids are not going into these fields, and we can't know all of them, are that they are very difficult. Teachers are not qualified to teach these disciplines at the K-12 level; and kids don't understand what kinds of jobs they can go into so there is a barrier there. Even if they have the capabilities to stay in math and science, they don't have the incentive because they are unsure of what kinds of jobs lay on the horizon."
Harris Miller is the president of the Information Technology Association of America.
"The annual ceiling has simply been too low the last few years, particularly when the economy has been as strong as it is and unemployment has been as low as it is. Increasing the cap on an annual basis to 195,000 is extremely helpful. It's also helpful in that the fees that the employers will have to pay as part of this new bill will total close to $200 million a year to be used primarily for training and educating American workers. So it's really a win-win because it will increase the number of skilled foreign workers coming in to help address the current shortage of IT workers in the United States, plus it [will increase] training dollars,