Saturday, February 07, 2009

Week In Review: Congress Restricts H1-B Visas, Delays DTV And More

Congress has been busy this week passing several laws that impact the tech sector. The most significant of which might be the passage of legislation to place restrictions on any firm that received money under the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) from hiring foreign workers requiring H-1B visas.

The legislation would require companies receiving TARP funds, mostly banks and financial services firms seeking funds for the mortgage bailout, to comply with hiring rules set for "H-1B dependent" firms -- those with more than 15% of their workers on H-1B visas.

Any firm receiving TARP funds will be automatically considered H-1B dependent, regardless of the percentage of H-1B workers on the payroll. The H-1B dependent designation subjects employers to a number of provisions, including a good faith effort to hire U.S. workers first.

"I firmly believe that companies going through layoffs that employ H-1B visas (holding workers) have a moral obligation to protect American workers by putting them first during these difficult times," said U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, according to an unofficial transcript of his remarks on the Senate floor.

Also this week the House of Representatives once again passed a bill that would delay the DTV transition by four months, postponing the cutoff date to June 12. A previous version of the bill passed in the U.S. Senate on January 26, but was rejected by the House.

The passage of the bill might be the shortest hurdle faced by consumers still needing to get their converters. The DTV converter box program currently has a wait list of nearly 3.7 million requests for new coupons and the additional funding still hasn't been released. Additionally the Associated Press is reporting DTV converter boxes could run out.

Manufactures stopped making DTV boxes in January, expecting demand to reach a peak in February and decline rapidly once the transition was made. The Consumer Electronics Association estimates U.S. retailers have 3 million to 6 million boxes at hand.

"The worst case is that there are only 3 million boxes," Michael Petricone, senior vice president of government affairs for the consumer electronics group, said. "Retailers would then run out of inventory by the end of February."

Nielsen Co. estimates that as many as 5.8 million households are unprepared for the transition leaving a gap of nearly 3 million boxes. If those inventories are closer to 6 million boxes then stocks should last until newly made boxes can reach shelves in April.

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