The popular H-1B work visa program could potentially be amended to prevent employers and the skilled workers who benefit from using the program from abusing it in the future.
H-1B visas allow foreign workers to fill in skill gaps in the American workforce. In 2016, foreigners sought the visa to the tune of three times the annual limit of 85,000, according to a CNN.com report.
Now, critics of the program are saying firms are exploiting the visas to hire the foreign workers in place of Americans to save some extra money on the bottom line.
With President-elect Donald Trump taking over the White House later this month, there may be an opening for people against the program to crack down on the excessive use of it, the CNN.com report said.
Among the combatants is Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who recently introduced a bill that would punish outsourcing companies (see I-W article here: http://bit.ly/2iwJBRJ).
Issa had initially introduced the “Protect and Grow American Jobs Act” in July 2016 which states that any company paying H-1B workers less than $100,000 would have to show they couldn't hire Americans for the same jobs.
The existing law is similar to what Issa introduced, but the pay scale is around $60,000. The law was established in 1998 and doesn't apply to foreign workers with master's degrees. Issa's bill would do away with that exemption.
The basis behind Issa’s law — which only would apply to companies with more than 50 employees and that have at least 15 percent of its workforce through the visa program — is to make it more expensive and more challenging for companies to use the H-1B visas.
Neil Ruiz, a specialist in migration and economic development at George Washington University Law School, said in the CNN report, “This bill shows the direction of where they may go in immigration reform: Let people in, but make sure you're protecting American workers and set the bar high.”
H-1B visas are utilized quite regularly by skilled workers in India seeking opportunities in the U.S. and more specifically Silicon Valley in California where tech industries are a dime a dozen.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who represents Silicon Valley, says Issa's legislation is inadequate and won't stop outsourcing.
"It's just a fig leaf," she said in the CNNMoney report.
To counteract Issa’s bill, Lofgren has drafted a more comprehensive bill that would award visas by which employers offer the highest salaries.
Under both the current system and Issa's proposal, visas are awarded by lottery, even after companies go through all the paperwork, the report said.
"That would avoid this program undercutting the wages of American workers," Lofgren said in the report. "It lets the market forces work."
Lofgren’s bill, which will also propose changes to how permanent visas are awarded, eliminating limits allocated by country, is scheduled to be introduced within weeks, the report noted.
By writing a new bill, Lofgren believes the high demand for H-1B visas will be cleared up, created by the long wait lists in countries such as India.
"Trump has said he's against outsourcing. If he is, he can take a look at this bill that could actually work," she said in the report. "If he's not serious, there's nothing I can do about it."
Immigration lawyers are waiting to see whether changes will take effect before the upcoming H-1B season. The government begins accepting applications April 1, the report noted.