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Anger in Downturn Turns Against Foreign-Born Workers

Singh, the California programmer, said: "I think the program is out of control. I find myself disadvantaged by other H-1Bs."

Singh came to the United States a decade ago on an H-1B permit. Since then, he has grown skeptical of companies' reliance on the program that brought him to America in the first place.

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He said he has been fired twice for economic reasons while cheaper foreign workers remained on the payroll. It took him three months to find his current job, which is now in jeopardy because of his company's efforts to reduce costs.

"There is a place for H-1B workers, but there are too many here with the downturn," he said. "When I came here 10 years ago, the quota was 50,000. Now they've raised it to 195,000."

One difference between Singh and many of today's H-1B employees -- the majority of whom come from India and China, according to Immigration and Naturalization Service data -- is that it is far less likely they will be able to remain in the country permanently.

In the early part of the 1990s, about half of the H-1B workers became residents, according to an April 2000 report by Georgetown's Institute for the Study of International Migration. The study, which used INS data, predicted that less than a quarter of current workers would win green-card sponsors.

Susan Martin, director of the Georgetown institute, noted in an interview that immigration policy routinely lags behind the economic times. She said the Immigration Act of 1990 increased the foreign labor pool shortly before the last U.S. recession, and Congress raised the cap on H-1B workers as the stock market fell.

"If this experience holds, it's likely that Congress will lower the numbers just as a recovery occurs in the high-tech economy," she said.

Martin argues that the country's immigration policy should provide numerical targets, not ceilings, for the number of new workers admitted every year to avoid such problems.

Send tips, gripes and your impressions on punching the virtual time clock to Carrie Johnson at johnsonca@washpost.com.


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