September 27, 2004 5:19 PM PDT

Senate weighs H-1B visa changes

There's a push in Congress to change guest visa programs, including a proposal to create an exemption to the annual cap of 65,000 new H-1B visas.

Legislation under serious discussion in the Senate would exempt foreign students graduating from U.S. schools with master's and doctorate degrees--a change opposed by labor groups and championed by businesses.

The package under consideration also calls for additional worker safeguards, including the ability for the Labor Department to conduct random audits of companies that may be violating the H-1B program, according to a Democratic senator's aide.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., is the main proponent of the changes, and Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts also is involved in the negotiations, said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The package could come through the Senate Judiciary Committee as standalone legislation or be tacked onto a larger bill, the aide said. The proposals also address the controversial L-1 visa program, which can bring in managers as well as skilled workers.

There's some urgency to act on the legislation soon, because Congress is expected to adjourn in October, possibly for the rest of the year.

In addition, H-1B visas for the year beginning Oct. 1 are likely to run out fast. As of Aug. 18, U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services, which handles applications for the H-1B program, had received petitions amounting to 71 percent of the annual cap. Exemptions to the cap already exist for institutions of higher education, nonprofit research groups and governmental research organizations.

"We're hoping that we'll see some movement, particularly on the L visas, during this year," Annie Laurie Crane, press secretary for Chambliss, said Monday.

Labor groups strongly oppose expanding the number of H-1B visas, which allow technology professionals and other skilled workers to enter the country for up to six years.

Debating the need for foreign workers
Marcus Courtney, president of technology worker advocacy group WashTech, said the student exemption to H-1B visas makes no sense. He pointed to a recent study for WashTech finding significant job losses in the technology sector and high unemployment among tech workers. "There's not a shortage of skilled professional workers in the U.S.," Courtney said.

Critics also say guest worker visas accelerate the trend to send highly skilled work offshore to countries such as India or the Philippines. If the guest workers return to their native countries, "they're better equipped to compete with us," said Vin O'Neill, legislative representative for the U.S. wing of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. IEEE-USA, which has criticized offshoring, also opposes the student exemption proposal.

Business groups, though, welcome the idea of expanding the H-1B program through the student exemption. Jeff Lande, senior vice president at the Information Technology Association of America trade group, said the country invests a good deal of resources in foreign graduate students. "If they can't stay, we're wasting that investment, and we're losing access to some of the best and brightest around," Lande said.

There's concern that fewer foreign students have applied to U.S. graduate programs and that this could contribute to a decline in the numbers of science and engineering doctorates produced at U.S. schools.

U.S. employers do not have to attest that they sought U.S. workers to fill the job before applying for a visa, but they are supposed to pay the prevailing wage to the guest worker. Many H-1B visas go to technology professionals. One-third of the approved visa applications in 2002 were for system analysts or programmers, though that figure was down from half of all approved visa petitions in 2001, according to CIS.

In February, the government said it had received enough applications to reach the cap for this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Executive passes
L-1 visas allow companies to temporarily bring in employees from other countries for managerial or executive work, or for work that entails specialized knowledge.

There is no annual cap on L-1 visas, nor is there a required pay rate. The number of L-1 visas issued by the U.S. government has tripled during the past 20 years, to about 113,000 in 2002, according to Rep. Henry Hyde, who held a hearing on guest worker visas earlier this year.

Chambliss says he wants to prevent companies from bringing professional workers into the United States on the L-1, then using those workers to displace employees at a third-party company in an outsourcing arrangement. Among other things, he has proposed requiring that companies employing a worker in a foreign country have him or her on staff for at least one year before transferring the employee to a U.S. office on an L-1 visa.

According to the senator aide, legislation under discussion would raise the fee employers pay for H-1B visas, with the funds used to train U.S. workers and provide scholarships. A $1,000 application fee for H-1B visas expired last October.

A source said that at this point Kennedy has not committed to the legislation and that he aims to include labor protections.

She said it was difficult to predict the outcome of the deliberations, especially concerning the H-1B program. "It is controversial, period," she said. "H-1B has always been controversial in the Senate."

24 comments

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Indentured Servants
What business want's is a source of indentured servants that they can hold over a barrel.

As long as there are educated Americans unemployed there's no reason to import people period.
Posted by waynehapp (52 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You certainly didn't think before you posted
With regards to H1B holders being "Indentured servants" - there is SOME truth to that. I know of some companies that specifically go out of their way to get H1B workers. Why? Not because of lower wages (as you like to beleive), but because it gives the company a person who will almost certainly stay with them for the duration of the naturalization process (5 years or so). It is very hard for an H1B worker to switch jobs - so the appeal for companies is that of stability.

To say that H1B workers are "Cheap" is stupid, at best. Here's why:
1) H1B wages MUST MATCH that of an American working in the company = prevailing wages.
2) On top of hte regular governmental taxes a company must pay for an employee (Social inSecurity, etc. etc.), Companies must also pay a special tax for H1Bs that goes to retraining American workers.
3) You need lawyers to handle H1B workers. And lawyers cost a lot of $$!
4) It takes months to hire an H1B because of the legal paperwork. This time is lost productivity.

When you add it all up, H1B workers are really far more expensive compared to American workers. So why hire an H1B?
1) There aren't enough QUALIFIED Americans to fill the positions. This is still the sad truth. There are less Americans obtaining scientific degrees now than before.
2) An unethical company will hire them knowing that they can work them really hard for the same wages they pay an American worker.

Large corporations like Intel, Cisco, Merk, etc. etc. rely on H1Bs because Americans just aren't interested in going into Electrical Engineering, Physics, Bio-Chemistry, etc. etc. A Psychology degree really isn't all that useful for high-tech jobs.

This bill targets an exception for MASTERS and DOCTORATE degrees. Something most people do NOT have (Americans or otherwise).

Unlike OFFSHORING (which is shipping any job overseas), H1Bs contribute directly into the US economy. They also help fill the growing technical void American students are unwilling to study for.

Don't beleive me? Go to any LARGE University, and tell me how many Americans are Teaching Assistants for the core science classes. While you're at it, look at the demographics of the class itself. You will find Americans the exception, rather than the rule.

America needs a steady stream of brilliant minds the fuel its economy. Lawyers do not produce anything. Scientists and engineers do. And until more Americans consider taking and graduating in these culturally stigmatized "Geeky" core science fields, companies will still need to go outside for them.

The problem isn't with H1Bs taking American jobs, it's Americans refusing to retool or retrain for them.
Posted by Tex Murphy PI (165 comments )
Link Flag
L1 proposed change already in force!
Sen. Chambliss might want to read up some more on L1 visa legislation. It is already a requirement - and has been for at least 10 years, which is when I arrived to work in the US as an L1 visa holder - that the employee "must have been employed abroad for the foreign corporation, firm, or other legal entity (or an affiliate or subsidiary thereof) on a full-time basis for at least one continuous year out of the last three-year period to qualify". How strange to propose a "change" to the legislation when that "change" is already in force!
Posted by isadorah (2 comments )
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Think Before You Post
Foreign students graduating from advanced degree programs in US are by definition not being employed by a foreign subsidiary of an American firm.
Posted by Erkut (7 comments )
Link Flag
that's the usual!
Yea, well right. The executive assistant probably did not know any better. the summary the good senator read, was probably written in a hurry by some intern. Do you think they really read or write all those laws. some interest group writes the proposed laws. some intern prepares an executive summary, some lawyers get paid to ammend the the proposal, and they all vote based in what the interest group is paying them at the time.
Posted by MacarioV (6 comments )
Link Flag
Disgusting - With 20-30% Unemployment in IT
The Last thing we need is for Congress to pass another job-killing bill like this. Stop giving American jobs to foreigners. Foreigners don't vote. I do - And I talk to 20-50 other voters per week. Don't think you can sneak this kind of stuff through Congress without me noticing.
Posted by (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
20-30% IT Unemployment in the USA - Link:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.aea.org/documents/040903AgeDiscrimination.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.aea.org/documents/040903AgeDiscrimination.html</a>
Posted by (8 comments )
Link Flag
Please remember...
That congress really doesn't listen to their constituents anymore. They mostly listen the well-funded Political Action Comittees (PAC).

If your House Rep is a Republican, you're just wasting your breath. If your Rep is a Democrat, you might still have a slim (10%) chance of being heard - over the cash register, that is!
Posted by Tex Murphy PI (165 comments )
Link Flag
L1 and H1B Visa
For L1 visa to come to the US; the law should be changed that for guest workers to come to work as Managers or Executives; they have to actually work in such positions prior to coming to their US affiliates. American Managers and Executives are being sacrificed and disadvantaged to have to train their inferiors as their boss in their own countries.

As for H1-B visa, the fee should be raised to $25,000 for employers; given the high rate of employments for US engineers and scientists. Only when US workers are fully employed than the fee can be reduced to the current nominal $1,000. There has got to be balance and benefits to be the citizen of this country...Policy makers must take heed to serve their constituencies ... we are mad, and we are ready to throw out of office elected officials who do not serve the nation interests.
Posted by (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Unemployed now due to L1
I worked for a US division of a Japanese company. I just got laid off along with all the other mid-managers while all the Japanese on L1's kept their jobs. I know they had to "get creative" for the one they just brought to the country, because the one leaving told me he did so! Yes, Americans are losing their jobs due to L1. I am definitely opposed to increasing the numbers. They obviously have ways to get them here anyway!
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
I had a H1B in 1999 and I did not understand it
I worked in Chicago in 1999 for a Company Bought up by CA, Suddenly I was told to leave USA in 7 Days!!!
Tourists get three months.
H1B Policys should be consistant, tying me up to One Company and job causes mistakes.
Posted by (5 comments )
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