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Republicans ramp up pressure for H-1B increase

They urge Democratic leaders to schedule vote on heightened cap within the next few months. Democrats say they're "committed" to granting that request, but timeline is unclear.

This year, Congress must raise the cap on H-1B temporary work visas beloved by technology companies, a coalition of conservative Republican politicians urged Democratic leaders late last week.

In a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Friday, 30 members of the U.S. House of Representatives Republican Study Committee called for a vote within the next few months to raise the quota. By law, that limit currently stands at 65,000, with an additional 20,000 allocated for foreigners with advanced degrees from U.S. institutions.

Here's a snippet:

Every year, American businesses tell us how they are unable to retain the qualified people that they want to retain because of the artificially low H-1B visa caps and related regulations that do not reflect market realities. This situation is ironic, since most of those unemployable people were educated in the United States. As a country, we are effectively handing these highly educated, extremely desirable individuals a diploma and a plane ticket. The message we are sending is: "You can learn here, but you have to work in another country."

TechCrunch, which first reported the letter, has posted a copy here.

The letter came about a week after U.S. immigration officials announced they received more than enough petitions to fill next year's cap and would be selecting recipients through a "lottery" of sorts.

A spokesman for Pelosi said his office had received the document, but he did not offer up any timeline for action.

"Democrats remain committed to working in a bipartisan way to build support for a realistic and balanced approach to immigration reform, including increasing the cap on H-1B visas," spokesman Brendan Daly told CNET News.com.

A number of bills in Congress would raise the H-1B cap, at least for a few years, by double or triple the existing amount. The Republican Study Committee named yet another bill, known as the Skil Act, that would elevate the number of visas to 115,000 and raise the cap by 20 percent after each year in which that bar was met.

In their letter, the Republicans lamented that the debate over skilled, legal immigrants got mixed up in a more stormy debate over illegal immigration, resulting in the unceremonious death of an immigration system overhaul last year. They urged the Democrats to "decouple" the two issues and move H-1B-related legislation "in short order."

The H-1B system, of course, is not without controversy. Some American computer programmers, allied under a group called Programmer's Guild, argue that allowing more H-1B temporary workers to work in the United States displaces American workers and depresses their wages. There is another contingent in Congress that argues the H-1B system needs changes to prevent abuse.