Two of the Senate's leading H-1B reformers, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), say abuse of the H-1B visa "is real" and the need for reform urgent. On Tuesday they introduced a new reform bill they say will protect U.S. workers.
These senators have made repeated efforts since 2007 to try to reform the H-1B program. This time, they're getting help from co-sponsors Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), where Disney replaced U.S. workers, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). Both Brown and Blumenthal signed a letter earlier this year requesting a federal review of use of H-1B workers at Southern California Edison.
"The H-1B visa program was never meant to replace qualified American workers, but it was instead intended as a means to fill gaps in highly specialized areas of employment that cannot be filled by Americans," said Grassley, in a statement.
Grassley said the "abuse of the system is real, and media reports are validating what we have argued against for years, including the fact that Americans are training their replacements," he said.
"There's a sense of urgency here for Americans who are losing their jobs to lesser skilled workers who are coming in at lower wages on a visa program that has gotten away from its original intent. Reform of the H-1B visa program must be a priority," said Grassley.
As with a previous bill, this latest effort, "The H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act," will require all employers who seek to hire an H-1B worker "to first make a good faith effort to recruit American workers."
This bill "explicitly prohibits the replacement of American workers by H-1B or L-1 visa holders," said the senators, in a joint statement.
A new provision will prioritize the annual allocation of H-1B visas. The large IT services companies that offshore jobs have been receiving more than half of the annual visa allotment, hurting the chances of employers trying to hire smaller numbers of workers.
This bill will give U.S. graduates preference in the visa distribution. "The preference system also gives a leg up to advanced degree holders, those being paid a high wage, and those with valuable skills," they wrote.
The 58-page bill was just released and it remains to be seen how effective or controversial these proposals will be.
The bill also includes limits on large IT outsourcers, which would be prohibited from hiring H-1B workers if more than 50% of their employees are on H-1B or L-1 visas.
The Department of Labor would also get more authority to investigate and audit employers, and users will be required to provide "extensive statistical data" about the H-1B program. There has never been government data released, for instance, on the gender of H-1B workers. The program is believed to be predominately male.
Grassley, who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, can ensure that this legislation gets a hearing, but he faces strong headwinds from the tech industry and U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the number two person in the Senate. Hatch, citing concerns by the tech industry, fought Grassley over H-1B reforms two years ago during the debate on Senate's comprehensive immigration bill.
Hatch is sponsoring the I-Squared bill, which would raise the base H-1B cap from 65,000 to 195,000. Sen. Blumenthal is a co-sponsor of the I-Square, but his support of the new Grassley/Durbin bill may be a sign that his views about I-Squared are changing.
There's also potential for additional competing bills. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) says he is working on an H-1B reform bill.
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