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  Clinton Signs Special Visas Bill

The Associated Press
Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2000; 9:55 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON –– President Clinton signed into law Tuesday a program that greatly increases the number of special work visas for skilled workers while doubling the cost of the visas to finance high-tech training for Americans.

"The growing demand for workers with high-tech skills is a dramatic illustration of the need to 'put people first' and increase our investments in education and training," the president said in a statement. "In today's knowledge-based economy, what you earn depends on what you learn."

He also castigated Congress for rebuffing Democrats' attempts to attach to the bill changes that would help Hispanic and other poorer immigrants who have been in the country for years. He said he will insist that Congress pass the Latino and Immigrant Fairness Act before it adjourns, which members want to do this week.

The bill Clinton signed passed after a protracted, bitter fight over inclusion of the additional provisions.

In signing the law aboard Air Force One, returning from emergency peace talks in Egypt, Clinton also ordered the Immigration and Naturalization Service and other agencies to monitor the implementation of the law to ensure that employers don't use it to bring in workers from abroad to take jobs at lower wages that otherwise would have gone to American workers.

If that should happen, Clinton said, that the next Congress might have to reconsider some of the law's provisions.

The new law increases the number of H-1B visas to 195,000 for each of the next three years, starting with the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Without the law, the number would have been 107,500 for this fiscal year and 65,000 in subsequent years.

It also increases the fee for a visa from $500 to $1,000, to raise around $170 million for mainly retraining programs.

Clinton said rejection of the Latino bill was an example of unfairness by the Congress.

"We need to meet the needs of the high-tech industry by raising the number of visas for temporary high-tech workers," Clinton said. "But we also must ensure fairness for immigrants who have been in this country for years, working hard and paying taxes."

The bill gives permanent residency to people who have lived in the country for at least 15 years and allows families to stay together while applications for permanent residency are pending. It also deals with refugees from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Haiti and Liberia under the same conditions granted to people from Nicaragua and Cuba.

© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press

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