Even H-1B visas, which are granted to well-educated foreign workers to fill technical jobs in the U.S., could come under attack in the current U.S. Congress, according to four attorneys in Atlanta who participated last month in an immigration workshop at the Atlanta International School.

      The workshop drew some 70 attendees and focused on a wide variety of issues including new regulations with tough penalties for immigrants who overstay their admission periods.

      Following the seminar, Kilpatrick & Stockton’s Robert Banta told GlobalFax that he felt Congress this year would focus on issues affecting the legal side of the legal/illegal immigration debate, and he pointed to the “Protection of American Workers Act of 1997,” already introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.).

      Beryl Farris of Beryl Farris & Peter Hill called the “prefiling recruitment” provision of the bill which would force an employer to substantiate that there was no available U.S. employee to fill a position before offering the job to an H-1 B visa holder, as “a dramatic break from U.S. history.”

      “The software industry, for instance, has more openings than there are people trained to fill them,” she said.  Ms. Farris also opposed the provision requiring a tax of 10% of an H-1B’s workers’ salary to a training fund because it would lead to a new government bureaucracy and would make U.S. companies less competitive.

      “Why penalize companies when they have to compete globally?” she added.

      Georges Hoffman, a partner with Smith, Gambrell & Russell, said later in a telephone interview that H1-B visa holders were not taking jobs from U.S. citizens, “but filling a need for skilled workers in short supply in the U.S.”

      Restrictions on H1-B visas would particularly penalize small- to medium-sized companies dependent on such employees, added Mr. Hoffman.

      Mark Newman of Troutman Sanders said that current law limited the number of H1-B visas to 65,000 a year — what he terms “a drop in the bucket.” He also said that U.S. multinationals would suffer from further restrictions on these visas.