RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – While IBM snips and cuts its U.S. based workforce, it ranks as the eighth largest user of foreign technology workers hired through H-1B visas.

That point should make for interesting conversation when Alliance@IBM and other organizations seeking to unionize IBM’s workforce meets in Paris in the next few days.

Companies are pushing Congress hard for more H-1B visas, saying they need more foreign tech workers. It’s one of the many flash points in the red-hot immigration debate in Congress.

A list of companies utilizing H-1B workers makes for interesting reading with IBM and an IBM Global Services unit employing more than 1,300 people under the program. Global Services, by the way, is the business unit that’s cutting U.S. workers in big numbers.

The H-1B visa program is also used by the Triangle’s three largest universities.

Duke University Medical Center hired 238.

UNC Chapel Hill has 173.

And North Carolina State hired 146.

Nortel, another high tech company that has cut U.S. workers, used 212 H-1B visa workers.

Cisco has 828.

I’m neither questioning the need for more H-1B visas nor criticizing companies for hiring them, but this issue needs vigorous debate since offshoring of U.S. jobs continues while even more foreign tech workers might be hired.

In fact, the Congressional report noted that nine outsourcers of jobs with strong connections to India use 30 percent of the 65,000 available visas.

Vivek Wadhwa, a serial entrepreneur now teaching and conducting research related to foreign workers and the impact of foreign-born entrepreneurs, has gone to great lengths to describe how important these workers are to the U.S. economy. Many come here to work and go on to start their own ventures, thus creating additional jobs.

I attended an event for the Triangle interactive gaming industry on Thursday night in Raleigh, and Wake Tech representatives said practically everyone enrolled in its two-year program for game programmers is likely to find jobs very quickly.

The good news is that many laid off U.S. technical workers can find other jobs because the economy is strong.

If the economy heads south, however, the H-1B program is likely to generate even more debate.