Published Sep 23, 2002 H1B23 Technology workers and engineers concerned about the impact of the nation's visa program for skilled workers on their jobs should be interested in this bit of news: The U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) is in the initial stages of a yearlong review of the program. Sigurd Nilsen, director of education, welfare and income security at the GAO, said the agency will examine how the so-called H1-B visa holders have fared under the program and look at whether the influx of the foreign guest workers has had a negative impact on U.S. workers. The government allows 195,000 workers with H1-B visas to enter the United States as guest employees. However, that cap could drop to 65,000 in October 2003, when Congress must decide whether to raise or lower the quota. One reason: less demand. This year, the Immigration and Naturalization Service reported that only 60,500 of the visas were granted between September 2001 and June 2002, down more than 50 percent from the same period ending in June 2001. Even so, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. USA is concerned that many jobless programmers and engineers have been unable to find new work because of increased reliance on foreign guest workers and the movement of work to India, Russia and other countries. The institute, which represents 377,000 information technology professionals, said the jobless rate for computer scientists rose to 5.3 percent in the second quarter of 2002, up from 4.8 percent in the same period last year. The study was requested by Democratic Reps. James Barcia and Lynn Rivers, both from Michigan and members of the House Science and Technology Committee. Rivers said she approached the GAO after receiving numerous calls and letters from unemployed programmers and engineers. "People are very unhappy," she said. "Lots of engineers in the United States believe they are being pushed out of jobs or not being considered for jobs because the H1-B process allows for low-wage foreign labor to be brought in. So, we are hoping that the GAO can quantify whether employers prefer to hire H1-B visa people because the foreign individual is tied to the job and may be earning less." Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, a trade group with 500 corporate members, said the engineers' arguments were "nonsensical." "The biggest impact on IT workers is a 20 percent drop in IT spending in this country," he said. "I am sorry they are frustrated. That is why they are unemployed -- not because of H1-Bs. The real challenge is work going offshore to India, China, Latin America, Central Europe and Russia. That is a much bigger threat."