April 3, 2007 1:14 PM PDT

Senate bill gives Americans preference for tech jobs

High-tech companies and others clamoring for additional H-1B visas to hire foreigners would be forced to give priority to American job seekers under a new U.S. Senate proposal.

Just before Congress departed for its spring recess at the end of last week, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced a bill--which appears to be the first of its kind in the Senate--designed to curb abuse of the controversial worker visa system.

"Our immigration policy should seek to complement our U.S. workforce, not replace it," Durbin said in a statement.

Dating back to 1990, the H-1B program allows foreigners with at least a bachelor's degree in their area of specialty to be employed in the United States for up to six years. There's currently an annual cap of 65,000 visas, at least on paper, with up to 20,000 extras available for foreigners who earn advanced degrees from U.S. universities. (Various exemptions bump the total allotment to just above 100,000.)

"Our immigration policy should seek to complement our U.S. workforce, not replace it."
--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)

The 32-page Senate bill would impose a host of additional obligations on employers. They would be required to pledge that they made a "good faith" effort to hire an American before taking on an H-1B worker and that the foreigner was not displacing a prospective U.S. worker.

Employers would also have to advertise job openings for 30 days on the Department of Labor's Web site before making H-1B visa applications, and they would be prohibited from advertising positions only to H-1B holders.

In addition, companies with 50 or more workers would not be allowed to employ more than half of their staff through H-1B visas.

In an attempt to discourage employers from hiring foreigners at lower wages than their American counterparts would command, employers would have to pay all H-1B workers the "prevailing wage," as calculated by a different method that raises the minimum to a higher level than it currently stands.

The proposal also aims to beef up the Department of Labor's authority to investigate abuses, giving the department the power to conduct random audits on employers, to review applications for "clear indicators of fraud," and to hire 200 additional employees to administer, oversee and enforce the H-1B program.

Grassley described the bill as aimed at "closing loopholes that employers have exploited by requiring them to be more transparent about their hiring and...ensuring more oversight of these visa programs to reduce fraud and abuse."

The announcement of the measure's introduction on Monday coincided with the first day that companies may apply for H-1B visas. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the limit was reached in fewer than two months last year. The agency said Tuesday that it had already received enough petitions--some 150,000 by Monday afternoon--to meet this year's cap and would not accept new applications until next April.

High-tech industry trade groups have long said the H-1B system is critical to relieving shortages of qualified U.S. workers and have called for its expansion. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, in fact, recently revived his push for unlimited visas, though he said improving the U.S. educational system is also vital.

Many members of Congress from both parties have been receptive to those suggestions, but their attempts at passing quota hikes have been met with mixed success in recent years.

One recent effort, a sweeping House immigration bill introduced in late March by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), would raise the H-1B cap to 115,000 in the first year and permit further increases if the quota is met in subsequent years, not to exceed 180,000. High-tech interests have endorsed the proposal, but critics say the bill is particularly worrisome because it also includes a number of broad exemptions, thereby allowing the effective number of eligible foreign hires to grow by an untold amount.

Groups such as the Programmers Guild and IEEE-USA that represent American programmers and engineers argue that it's far more important to remedy the existing system. They say it's riddled with abuses that make it possible for firms to hire H-1B workers at substandard salaries and to scrimp on recruiting Americans.

Programmers Guild founder John Miano said he is "genuinely enthusiastic" about the Grassley-Durbin effort, which he called a "comprehensive" approach that could go a long way toward fixing what critics perceive as problems with the system. Similar but narrower proposals aimed at curbing abuse have surfaced in the House of Representatives in previous years, but they have not progressed to floor votes.

"My guess is, if we had something in place like this, we wouldn't come close to using up the H-1B quota up every year," Miano said in a telephone interview.

Kara Calvert, director of government relations for the Information Technology Industry Council, said she found components of the bill "worrisome" and hoped the measure would not go anywhere. ITIC's members include Apple, Dell, Cisco Systems, IBM, Intel and Microsoft.

"The bottom line is we are not opposed to U.S. laws that prevent fraud and abuse within the immigration system, particularly within the H-1B, L and employment-based programs," she said. "Any revisions to U.S. law, however, must be carefully and narrowly drafted to avoid unintended consequences that will hinder the ability of U.S. companies to innovate."

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32 comments

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More loopholes...
If an employers workforce is 75% H1B located in USa then his company should be closed and fined.
Posted by inachu (963 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How about jail time for the CEO ?
At 75% its way too late ... what are you going to do about the poor
75% who will then be out of a job ? Let them take other jobs in the
US ?
Posted by BobHannan (3 comments )
Link Flag
The question is what is the AVERAGE wage
What if a H1b worker with a PhD is ok with an entry-level job the only requires a bachelor's?

You guys always talk about those H1b workers that are underpaid, the fact is that 90% of my friends are paid higher or as much as their American colleagues.
Posted by joelam888 (300 comments )
Link Flag
tightening H1-B
H1-B abuse must be stopped, but did the Immigration enforce the L-1 and B-1 restrictions?

Its an open secret that Wipro, INFY and TCS use these visas for their workers to visit US and even more work at the Client location (which is illegal in case of L-1 and B-1).

Unless there is enforcement, there is no point bringing in fancy laws. The H1-B, L-1 and B-1 have enough teeth in them, but the immigration is not enforcing them properly.
Posted by YankeePoodle (785 comments )
Reply Link Flag
More Outsourcing?
First of all, the issue with H1 is not the same as mowing lawn or cleaning toilets. The work can be moved outside the United States at a even lesser cost than paying H1s. Its sad to see the same old formula ineffective "increase the cost" formula being applied over and over again. America has more to gain from H1s than shoot itself in the foot with protectionist policies. This bill seems to only increase the cost for businesses to either pay more or outsource. 3 guesses to what the businesses will chose. Remember, health care and manufacturing jobs?
Most companies still have some operating branches in US due availability of H1s to fill those positions. Atleast H1 visas ensure that jobs stay in US, not to mention the contribution of H1B employees to the US economy overall, remember these are above average pay jobs mandated by department of labor.
Posted by frozen_oasis (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
RE: More Outsourcing?
Very good point - indeed, artificial restrictions on H1 visas will just push companies to outsource even the tasks that they would rather keep in-house and maybe just partially suff with H1B holders. Take into cosideration that technical projects usually stuffed with mixed taskforce, not with 100% of H1-B employeers.

What will a company do if it could not get people with necessary skills due to these restrictions?

Because it is very difficult and not cost-effective to outsource the projects partially, this will lead to a forced "wholesale" outsourcing, and as a direct result American workers would actually loose even more jobs.

I bet the outcome would be quite opposite to the intended result...
Posted by Dandy55 (66 comments )
Link Flag
RE: More Outsourcing?
Very good point - indeed, artificial restrictions on H1 visas will just push companies to outsource even the tasks that they would rather keep in-house and maybe just partially suff with H1B holders. Take into cosideration that technical projects usually stuffed with mixed taskforce, not with 100% of H1-B employeers.

What will a company do if it could not get people with necessary skills due to these restrictions?

Because it is very difficult and not cost-effective to outsource the projects partially, this will lead to a forced "wholesale" outsourcing, and as a direct result American workers would actually loose even more jobs.

I bet the outcome would be quite opposite to the intended result...
Posted by Dandy55 (66 comments )
Link Flag
Good example
You are very right.
I am working for US company for 4 years already as outsourced contractor (software architect). Because I was unable to get H1B yet (applied in 2006, 2007), so I am forced to live overseas and employ team of programmers here instead of US.
I am the only person that knows about the system (software/hardware), so it is pretty hard to replace me with US worker.
So if I do not get H1B, all the income/taxes will be paid overseas and jobs will be outsourced. If I would be in US we would hire US developers for sure.
For my company it is very exceptional circumstances - they can not replace me yet, they can not hire people in US even if they want to.
In reality US lost 100's of thousands of dollars just because of 1 H1B. I wonder how many examples like me are there....
Posted by alenas (181 comments )
Link Flag
Root of the problem
Instead of adopting protectionist measures, we need to fix the root of the problem wherein tech firms are not able to find qualified US professionals for the job. Revamp the education system - renewed focus on Maths and science at high school level, less college fees and more scholarships for engineering programs at universities, better stipends/wages while pursuing full-time graduate degrees. We need to compete on intelect and not on policital measures.
Posted by sparikh (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Fact is most Americans are not good at math and science
You just can't force children to study those subjects.
Posted by joelam888 (300 comments )
Link Flag
Abolish H1 altogether; make it easy for good people to immigrate
H1 (and even worse, L1) should be fair to Americans and immigrants.
Many high-tech workers that are today Americans started with either an H1 or as a student. Some come with families, are highly educated and some did not really have to come and suffer the slow process of immigration.
US should, for it's own benefit, completely overhaul the system and make it easy for desired immigrants to complete the process quickly and make it so undesired/not-so-desired people know the outcome as early on as possible if not right at the beginning of the process.
Posted by AbuLafya (86 comments )
Reply Link Flag
World wide labor market
Employers "shopping" for cheap labor is no different from you "shopping" for cheap products. Why should not an employer be allowed to choose cheap foreign labor over expensive domestic, when you can choose to go to Target or Wal-Mart instead of a more expensive local drugstore or specialist store?
Posted by JadedGamer (207 comments )
Reply Link Flag
H1B
America for Americans ... First.
Posted by wwjunk (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Should we punish Americans who buy foreign cars?
It's about quality, fool!
Posted by joelam888 (300 comments )
Link Flag
Should we punish Americans who buy foreign cars?
It's about quality!
Posted by joelam888 (300 comments )
Link Flag
ditto
Amen bro.
Posted by suyts (824 comments )
Link Flag
What took them so long
This story needs to be passed to every American Citizen. It is insane that ANY American Tech Company chooses to hire an immigrant over an American Citizen

Although I will say that there needs to be a moral awakening in America. Americans needs to get off the couches, and away from the video games and GET INTO SCHOOL!
Posted by the1kingarthur (47 comments )
Reply Link Flag
There're enough talented Americans, it's the truth, face it.
Almost all H1b workers have bachelor's or higher advanced degrees. They don't ***** about their wages and every employer loves to have employees like that.
Posted by joelam888 (300 comments )
Link Flag
Not that simple...
Genuine American Tech Companies (I'm not talking about some illegal tech version of sweetshops) do not hire an immigrant over an American Citizen. Good companies just can't find a candidate with proper set of skills - only then they go shopping for H1-candidate.

The choice is not between American Citizen and H1-B immigrant for one open tech position. The choice is - can we hire the suff we need (taking in, maybe, 20% of the stuff on H1-B) for this particular tech project here in US - or we HAVE TO OUTSOURCE THE WHOLE PROJECT somewhere, say, to Bangalore or China? And if we can't hire here in U.S. - then this whole project "goes south", taking remaining 80% of tech positions away with it.

That is the REAL story that needs to be passed to every American Citizen, including citizen the1kingarthur!
Posted by Dandy55 (66 comments )
Link Flag
Not that simple...
Genuine American Tech Companies (I'm not talking about some illegal tech version of sweetshops) do not hire an immigrant over an American Citizen. Good companies just can't find a candidate with proper set of skills - only then they go shopping for H1-candidate.

The choice is not between American Citizen and H1-B immigrant for one open tech position. The choice is - can we hire the suff we need (taking in, maybe, 20% of the stuff on H1-B) for this particular tech project here in US - or we HAVE TO OUTSOURCE THE WHOLE PROJECT somewhere, say, to Bangalore or China? And if we can't hire here in U.S. - then this whole project "goes south", taking remaining 80% of tech positions away with it.

That is the REAL story that needs to be passed to every American Citizen, including citizen the1kingarthur!
Posted by Dandy55 (66 comments )
Link Flag
H1B Visa = Salvery for Immigrants
Many big USA Corporations tired of visa quote have started opening offices in India....lawmakers are not seeing this that here is a loss of revenue for the country and the state. Actually by not issuing H1B visas USA is harming its own growth. It is better to have a H1B employee working in USA and spending in USA rather than companies opening offices in other countries for the same jobs. These are jobs lost forever.

It is funny to know that lawmakers who are making big hue and cry about H1B visa....really don't know what many H1b visa holders are going through. Why the law does not talk about the criminal punishment for companies and its officers who don't treat their H1B visa holder employees like a normal employee?
Few of the mistreatment given to legal immigrants is:
? Not paying the salary promised at the time of hiring.
? No health benefits as offered
? Not giving salary if employer cannot find paying consulting work for employee
? Not giving health benefits offered at the time of hiring
? Not paying for hotel, transport and food when sent to work temporarily at clients location for consulting projects.
This list can go on and on?.
This does not mean that all the companies who hire on H1B treat their employees badly, it was our bad luck that we were a pray to such company.

My wife went through hell. She is master in computer applications and after she left her job in India in 2001 and came to USA, we found that things that were promised to us were just a carrot to get us here and work like slaves. I was not going to be the one who will take it quietly. I could not see my wife suffering physically and mentally. After finding out about what we can do to find other employer (which is not easy at all for H1B visa holders). We could not go back to India as both of us had resigned from job and wound up our life there.
We could not find a lawyer who will understand the immigration laws and how company can be implicated. Many suggest filing law suit in labor dept...but that is not a justice for us for the misery that we went through. Finally we found a friend who took up our case after hearing our sad story.
We filed the case in 2003 against our employer who brought us to USA in 2001. Today we are awaiting the judgment in our case in the 8th circuit federal court. This can be land mark judgment and warning to all companies who are misusing the visa.
How come this went on for such a long time and nothing is being done about to it to make it right? This is LEGAL slavery going unnoticed.
Law makers are not bothered as legal immigrants are not vote bank. Citizens don't know what is happening as they are unaware of the immigration procedures and misery that a legal immigrant goes though.
I hope there is somebody powerful enough to understand how this law is misused by companies to make high profits and reducing the salary of IT professionals in USA.
Posted by bobmehta (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
H1B Visa = Slavery for Immigrants
Many big USA Corporations tired of visa quote have started opening offices in India....lawmakers are not seeing this that here is a loss of revenue for the country and the state. Actually by not issuing H1B visas USA is harming its own growth. It is better to have a H1B employee working in USA and spending in USA rather than companies opening offices in other countries for the same jobs. These are jobs lost forever.

It is funny to know that lawmakers who are making big hue and cry about H1B visa....really don't know what many H1b visa holders are going through. Why the law does not talk about the criminal punishment for companies and its officers who don't treat their H1B visa holder employees like a normal employee?
Few of the mistreatment given to legal immigrants is:
? Not paying the salary promised at the time of hiring.
? No health benefits as offered
? Not giving salary if employer cannot find paying consulting work for employee
? Not giving health benefits offered at the time of hiring
? Not paying for hotel, transport and food when sent to work temporarily at clients location for consulting projects.
This list can go on and on?.
This does not mean that all the companies who hire on H1B treat their employees badly, it was our bad luck that we were a pray to such company.

My wife went through hell. She is master in computer applications and after she left her job in India in 2001 and came to USA, we found that things that were promised to us were just a carrot to get us here and work like slaves. I was not going to be the one who will take it quietly. I could not see my wife suffering physically and mentally. After finding out about what we can do to find other employer (which is not easy at all for H1B visa holders). We could not go back to India as both of us had resigned from job and wound up our life there.

We could not find a lawyer who will understand the immigration laws and how company can be implicated. Many suggest filing law suit in labor dept...but that is not a justice for us for the misery that we went through. Finally we found a friend who took up our case after hearing our sad story.

We filed the case in 2003 against our employer who brought us to USA in 2001. Today we are awaiting the judgment in our case in the 8th circuit federal court. This can be land mark judgment and warning to all companies who are misusing the visa.

How come this went on for such a long time and nothing is being done about to it to make it right? This is LEGAL slavery going unnoticed.
Law makers are not bothered as legal immigrants are not vote bank. Citizens don't know what is happening as they are unaware of the immigration procedures and misery that a legal immigrant goes though.

I hope there is somebody powerful enough to understand how this law is misused by companies to make high profits and reducing the salary of IT professionals in USA.
Posted by bobmehta (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Unemployed people finding excuses for their failures
They're unemployed even if there's 0 foreign workers in the states 'cause they are not skilled enough to obtain the good jobs, period.
Posted by joelam888 (300 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ignore Joe Lam
Taking his posts as a whole, he is obviously a foreigner or a troll or both.
Posted by dmm (336 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Great bill -- hope it passes
It is a total LIE that US employers can't find skilled US-citizen workers. How do we know it is a lie? Supply and demand. If supply were truly short of demand (as claimed by the tech company lobby), then salaries would be climbing, skilled workers could easily change companies, and headhunters would be out in force. But NONE of those things are happening.

What the tech company lobby is REALLY saying is "if we only had skilled workers available in the US for the kind of 3rd-world wages and benefits we pay in Bangalore, WOW, think of what we could do." Those are the 'lost jobs' that the tech company lobby keeps talking about. And, yes, they are absolutely correct: if only we had an untouchable class, and no social safety net, and rampant pollution, and no health benefits, and no government oversight of business whatsoever, we could really be a successful country with a booming economy. Life would be awesome for those not at the bottom of the heap.
Posted by dmm (336 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Numerous Effects, Few Causes
I read the current replies and they fall into several groups. One references employer abuses of the system and their hires. Another mentions education and skills. Yet another discusses the globalization of the workforce.

As I see the situation, those problems are symptoms of two US problems: laziness and greed. Before technology allowed the workforce to be globalized and before there were H1-B visas (or at least before they were well known), American companies had to rely on American employees and legal immigrants. They had to pay market rates for those employees. As demand rose, salaries rose. Job hopping became a great way to increase one's salary. What's more, we Americans found we could be lazier, doing less for more money because the employers were just happy to get what they could from us.

Eventually, employers were pinched between costs and income, and looking good to the stock market. Buyers wanted ever cheaper products and services and employees wanted ever higher salaries and more benefits. Other countries began to compete more heavily with US companies. Japan, Korea, China, etc. were producing faster, better, and/or cheaper products (sometimes with slave labor). That put more pressure on the income side for employers. They had to find ways to cut costs, which would look good to the markets.

We US employees didn't want to take pay cuts; quite the opposite. Employers needed to look elsewhere to reduce their employee costs. Countries like India had intelligent, capable, hard working people who were thrilled to come to the US and work for less than Americans or to work for the outsourcing companies at home for more than they could earn otherwise. Those employees weren't making nearly as much as the Americans, but they had the skills to do what was needed. Thus, outsourcing and H1-B employees returned companies to profitability.

The backlash is that the employers only remain in business because so much of their workforce is underpaid and not American. This makes them less than ideal citizens of this country. However, if they cease operations, whatever American employees they have will not have a job. Continuing operations keeps at least some jobs here and earns our Government some taxes.

Another problem arises once companies avail themselves of outsourcing and using H1-B employees: abuse. As some have written here, employers can cheat or lowball the foreign workers through various means. That increases profitability, but leads to an unmotivated and even rebellious workforce. It also artificially lowers the pay scale making it nearly impossible to hire Americans for the same positions, locking the employers into foreign workforces.

Improving the education of Americans will help, but I'm not sure our education is so poor that we can't do most of the work that needs done. Reducing our expectations and standard of living will help far more. If we didn't expect to live in McMansions with multiple Hummers parked near our pools watching our home theaters the day after we move out of our parents' home, and instead learned to save money, spend wisely and within our means, etc., we could live happily on lower salaries. With that, we might find ourselves employable again.
Posted by c|net Reader (856 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Here's an Idea
Create an index based on experience, pay, and benefits of what
an American would earn in a given tech job.

Then obtain payroll information (IRS) from the American based
tech companies for their foreign workforce stateside, and wages
of those jobs they've outsourced overseas.

Compare the two.

The difference will be a new tax those companies will have to
pay each year!
Posted by Gromit801 (393 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Is lottery the real solution for this problem..Isnt it time to change rules
Never in history has this happened. The H1B cap received excess(double) applicants on the same day. Does this signal for some change in the history.

No doubt, US is getting a lot of profit in recruiting skilled foreigners. The MNC's can list the total strength of foreign workers and their contribution to the organizations and in turn to the countries profit. Why then such a treatment for people who bring so much profit to the country. The job opportunities for natives is put to danger. Why not motivate the native people to come in par with the skill set of foreigners. Why not use the foreigners to improve the skill set of natives. Thereby get profit on one hand and improvements on the other.

Fixing a cap is the main reason for these problems. All employers(including consultants) are trying to apply for as many as applicants as possible, whether all are utilized or all get clients is in the next level. This also raises questions like, are there so many job opportunities in this country. If so are these applicant all genuine and truly skilled. The fixed cap size has even given rise to fraud guys who some how manage to get H1B and then play around the system. This clearly states that fixing the cap doesn't hold good any more. Making it a year round process and bringing strict rules in recruitment makes more sense.

Is lottery the real solution. In this process, the probability of selection is approx 1 in 3. This 1 who gets selected can be unskilled guy who managed to apply through sources but will not get client or who will not be utilized at all and hence doesn't bring any profit to the country. The 3 others can be real skill set required in the market. Then is the lottery system the right way to play with job opportunities.

All this calls for a change in rule which needs to be framed very carefully taking into considerations every nook and corner.
Posted by bring_change (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Get back to basics
The problem we have facing our country is the total dominance at the top by mediocre management who are incompetent, ignorance and arrogant. Our government in part supports this paradigm-just look at the government procurement process and read GAO reports. New legislation will not solve the problem but a willingness by the intellectuals (who have hybernated out of frustration)to come out and speakup against the mediocrity. We need to promote people for their capability and not propensity for exploitation. India and China are rising not so much because they have a dispropotionate number of bright people but because we have managed to force bright people into hybernation. Stop calling any one who undwerstands technology as a non business savvy geek. Today America stands at the cross road of a major trend, we can recover to our glorious past by real work (not paper manipulation of financial instruments)or become part of the historical statistics of the past civiliztions-The Romans, Mesopotamians, Greeks, Persians....The choice is ours but we must have the courage to get rid of the proverbial mediocratic scum that has risen to the top.
Posted by lalloo1 (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Where do we report employers that hire an H-1B or L-1 instead of a qualified American? I found out this happened to me.

'm a qualified American yet companies refuse to interview me. Why? How many years do I have to go without a job? It also makes no sense to say to the American scientist such as myself, "I'm sorry to tell you but we prefer to hire non-American citizens even though you are qualified for the position." "You mean nothing to us and you can not help this country."
Posted by Jake92839 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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