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Rep. Pascrell's H-1B bill is a message to Democrats

Rep. Pascrell's H-1B bill is a message to Democrats

IEEE-USA president says workforce 'health' requires a shift away from temp hires

Early this month, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) introduced an H-1B reform bill that, he said, has little chance of being enacted this year. But that wasn't the point of the bill.

"I introduced my legislation, in fact, when I saw [that H-1B] wasn't going to be in the [Democratic] platform," Pascrell said during a telephone press conference Monday about his legislation.

The Democrats, both presumptive presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and the party itself, have not called for H-1B reforms. It's not mentioned in Clinton's or in the party's draft platforms. That's in contrast to Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump, who has detailed visa reforms in his platform.

Pascrell's press conference was held to make a case for visa reform. He admitted that he was trying to get Clinton to raise the profile of the H-1B issue, although he could not be specific about the effort. What Pascrell is clear about is the impact of the visa program.

"America is producing many skilled high-tech professionals with advanced degrees and no jobs," he said.

Others on the call included Peter Eckstein, the president of the IEEE-USA, an organization for technology professionals that represents some 200,000 engineers.

"We're long past the point where politicians can pretend that the H-1B visa isn't costing American jobs," Eckstein said.

"America cannot build a high skilled workforce out of temporary workers," Eckstein continued. "The long-term health of our economy requires a stable and skilled workforce, not a workforce that is hired for a few years and sent home taking the skills and job with it."

There are lawmakers in the House and Senate, of which Pascrell is one, who are advocating reform. Pascrell's bill, the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2016, is co-sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who also co-sponsored a previous reform effort that Pascrell made.

The bill calls for a number of changes, including requiring employers to make a good faith effort to recruit U.S. workers before bringing in foreign workers.

Hal Salzman, a professor of planning and public policy at Rutgers University who was also on the call, said that most of the visa workers working in IT "are being hired at the bottom of the IT payscale."

The H-1B program "does not look like a search for talent," Salzman said. "It just looks like a wholesale replacement program to replace U.S. workers with young, temporary guest workers."

Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at Howard University, said the H-1B program operates at a large scale. "More than half of all H-1Bs have gone to offshore firms," he said on the conference call.

"Congress and multiple administrations have basically created a very lucrative, profitable business model, which is bringing in guest workers at far below market wages," Hira said.

John Miano, a computer programmer who became a lawyer and sued the U.S. over its Optional Practical Training program, said changes to the H-1B program are "essential for our nation's survival." Otherwise, he said, "tech jobs will go the way of factory jobs."

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