indica News Bureau-
A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a legislation in both the chambers of the US Congress proposing major reforms in skilled non-immigrant visa programmes by giving priority to US-educated foreign technology professionals in issuing of H-1B work visas. The H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act, as introduced in House of Representatives and Senate, will require US Citizenship and Immigration Services to prioritise for the first time the annual allocation of H-1B visas. The Bill introduced in both the Senate and the House of Representatives by a group of seven legislators from both parties as an amendment to the Immigration and Naturalisation Act comes as about 39 million people are jobless with the unemployment rate at one of the historic highs, estimated at 23 per cent, reported The Week.
The new system would ensure that the best and brightest students being educated in the US receive preference for an H-1B visa, including advanced degree holders, those being paid a high wage and those with valuable skills, proponents of this major legislative reform said on Friday.
The has been introduced in Congress for wide-ranging reforms to the L-1 and H1B visa programs amid the COVID-19 uncertainty over job prospects and immigration in order to stop the replacement of US workers, give preference to US-educated applicants, tighten wage requirements and increase enforcement.
“We want to make sure that talent is coming to the US, but we also want to make sure that it’s being done with proper compensation” and all workers are protected from exploitation, Democratic Representative Ro Khanna, who is of Indian descent and is a co-sponsor of the legislation, said.
The Bill has a slim chance of being passed in the current session of the Congress, which is burdened by coronavirus pandemic-related legislation and limitations on sittings.
The most significant element of the Bill is an explicit prohibition of the replacement of American workers by H1B or L-1 visa holders and ensuring that their working conditions are not adversely affected.
H1B visas are for professionals and L-1 visas are given to employees of foreign companies transferred to work in the US temporarily.
The legislation, among other things, explicitly prohibits the replacement of American workers by H-1B or L-1 visa holders, clarifying that working conditions of similarly employed American workers may not be adversely affected by the hiring of an H-1B worker, including H-1B workers who have been placed by another employer at the American worker’s worksite.
These provisions address the types of abuses that have been well-documented.
Importantly, the legislation proposes increased crackdown on outsourcing companies that import large numbers of H-1B and L-1 workers for temporary training purposes only to send the workers back to their home countries to do the same job.
Specifically, the bill would prohibit companies with more than 50 employees, of which at least half are H-1B or L-1 holders, from hiring additional H-1B employees.
Indians are the biggest beneficiaries getting around 75 percent of the H1B visas. Democrat Representative Frank Pallone said the amendment would require “a good faith effort to recruit and hire American workers (which) is critical to helping people get back to work during this difficult time and will help prevent the exploitation of foreign workers.”
Another key element of the Bill to give priority to US-educated applicants for H1-B visas is already in force through a regulation introduced last year by the administration of US President Trump.
The Bill would prevent companies having more than half their workforce made up of H1-B visa holders from hiring any more of them.
Companies would also be barred from having H1B or L-1 employees temporarily in the US to get trained and sent back home to do the same work.
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, a prime mover of the Bill, said, “We need programmes dedicated to putting American workers first. When skilled foreign workers are needed to meet the demands of our labour market, we must also ensure that visa applicants who honed their skills at American colleges and universities are a priority over the importation of more foreign workers.”
Khanna, like other sponsors, acknowledged the role of immigrants in building up the Silicon Valley.
“American immigrants come to this country with some of the most innovative, transformative ideas this world has ever seen. If we’re going to continue to foster a culture of creativity, we must reform the H-1 and L-1 visa programs to protect all workers from abuses,” he said.
The bill gives the US Department of Labor enhanced authority to review, investigate and audit employer compliance with programme requirements, as well as to penalise fraudulent or abusive conduct. It requires the production of extensive statistical data about the H-1B and L-1 programmes, including wage data, worker education levels, place of employment and gender.
In addition, the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act encompasses several reforms of the L-1 visa programme, including establishment of a wage floor for L-1 workers; authority for the US Department of Homeland Security to investigate, audit and enforce compliance with L-1 programme requirements; assurance that intra-company transfers occur between legitimate branches of a company and don’t involve shell facilities and a change to the definition of specialised knowledge to ensure that L-1 visas are reserved only for truly key personnel.
Stop H1B abuse
Introducing what is titled as H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act, the lawmakers said the bill would prioritize American workers and restore fairness in visa programs for skilled foreign workers who are educated in the US, while closing loopholes that have been exploited by body-shopping firms and companies specializing in outsourcing work. They said the legislation would restore Congress’ original intent in the H-1B and L-1 visa programs by increasing enforcement, modifying wage requirements and securing protections for both American workers and visa holders.
“Congress created these programs to complement America’s high-skilled workforce, not replace it. Unfortunately, some companies are trying to exploit the programs by cutting American workers for cheaper labor. We need programs dedicated to putting American workers first. When skilled foreign workers are needed to meet the demands of our labor market, we must also ensure that visa applicants who honed their skills at American colleges and universities are a priority over the importation of more foreign workers,” Senator Chuck Grassley, one of the lead sponsors of the legislation said. Provisions of the bill will require US. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to prioritize for the first time the annual allocation of the 85,000 H-1B visas that are currently issued. The new system would ensure that the best and brightest students being educated in the United States receive preference for an H-1B visa, including advanced degree holders, those being paid a high wage, and those with valuable skills.
Under the current system, only 20,000 H1B visas are allotted to foreign students graduating from US universities, with the rest 65,000 going to foreign guest workers who are either recruited directly or come to the US for onsite projects. Lawmakers and pressure groups claim the system has long been manipulated by companies that send poorly qualified foreign workers to the US who are frequently trained by their American counterparts, who often end up getting replaced by them. Sometimes, the companies importing the workers take the project back abroad to do it at a lower cost.