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Congress mulls multiple bills to reform H-1B visa program

At least a half-dozen bills exist that modify H-1B or L-1 foreign worker rules with little progress made for the effort

By Julie Bort on Mon, 10/25/10 - 11:07am.

Members of the 111th session of Congress (2009-2010) have made multiple attempts to modify rules that bring foreign workers into U.S. IT jobs. Some bills seek to restrict a company's ability to import workers, others try to make it easier to get visas or keep foreign workers once they are here.

H-1B visaAll told, members of Congress have introduced over 200 bills this session that attempt to modify the nation's visa policies. Most of these, like H.R. 3744: Dairy and Sheep H-2A Visa Enhancement Act (no lie, that's what it's called) don't affect IT workers. But a handful of bills do.

Before I get into the specifics of these bills, I want to say that I am all for a global workforce that enables U.S. companies to hire the brightest minds from places near and far. But I also feel that a company that uses the visas to hire overseas workers because they are cheaper, not better qualified, is abusing the system.

To be fair, with unemployment rates in the U.S. IT sector at historic highs, U.S. IT companies have used far fewer H-1B visas than they've gobbled up in previous years. (For more stats on that, see my post Cisco praised by Senator Schumer for not abusing H-1B visas). In the first half of 2010 IT joblessness hovered around 5.7 percent, according to GovInfoSecurity.com. That's a lot of out-of-work IT professionals even though the technology segment hasn't been as hard hit as others.

But a whole bunch of loopholes exist that allow companies to tap into overseas talent without being tallied in the H-1B counts. Plus, as the economy bounces back, will companies up their use of visas again (I think so) and, more importantly, should they? I don't think so, at least not unless there are ways to stop abuse.

Our elected officials see a lot of ways to reign visa misuse, given the number of bills introduced. I've sifted through the list of 200+ via the GovTrack.US website and the THOMAS Library of Congress to create a short list of the bills I think most impact IT workers. If you are tracking one that isn't on my list, please post a comment about it.

Two of the bills are particularly worth calling out. The H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2010 has both House and Senate versions and directly tackles the issue. The comprehensive immigration reform bill, H.R. 4321, has a whole lot of politicians signed on in support, but all of them are Democrats. (Disclosure: I am a registered Democrat.) With elections looming, lack of bipartisan support doesn't bode well. Plus, another version of the SKIL bill, an annual attempt to increase H-1B visas limits was introduced again in 2010. But in this economy, it doesn't have the kind of steam it did when it was introduced in 2007 version (championed by a group of Republican Senators) and passed the Senate but went no further.

So, where do we stand? All the bills I investigated are in committee, the place where most bills go to die.

The next steps are up to you. Read the bills that interest you. Contact your local representative to tell of your support (or lack of it). Do (or don't) vote for the bill's sponsor if she or he is up for re-election. It doesn't hurt to contact the sponsoring representative as well, although if you aren't in that politician's district, your letter might not have the same weight.

Before we get to the charts, here's a round up of visas that most impact American jobs.

H-1B: Most of us have heard of H-1B visas. These are for foreign workers coming into the U.S. for "highly specialized" occupations, typically for three to six years. (By the way, there is also a H-2B visa. It is for non-agricultural seasonal workers, so it doesn't impact full-time IT employment.)

L-1: For employees of an international company that either has an office in the United States or intends to open an office in the U.S. Blanket L-1 visas are issued to corporations who transfer large numbers of employees between international offices and the U.S. People have told me that there is abuse of L-1 visas where someone that may no longer qualify for H-1B winds up staying in the U.S. under L-1 status. Also, it provides a way for outsourcing companies to open U.S. offices and import foreign workers as staff.

EB-5: This gives a green card to people who want to invest at least $500,000 in venture capital into a U.S. startup that will create at least 10 U.S. jobs. I call that a good reason for a visa!

Bill Number
What the bill does
Status
H.R. 5397 and
S. 887:
H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2010
Imposes about a dozen restrictions on the use of H-1B and L-1 visas such as prohibiting methods that priortizes visa workers over U.S. workers. Also authorizes 200 more jobs at the Department of Labor to administer and investigate program abuses.
Referred to five committees.

H.R. 4321:
Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act of 2009

Comprehensive immigration reform including border control to detension policy. Includes provisions for restricting H-1B, L-1, EB-5 visas and pursuing fraud.
Referred to more than a dozen committees.
H.R. 4259: Employment Benefit Act
Expands eligibility of EB-5 visas and adds a $2,500 application fee
Referred to three committees
S. 2804: Employ America Act
Restricts employers from getting visas for foreign workers if they have had, or will have, large lay-offs of U.S. workers
Refered to one committee
S. 3029 and H.R. 5193: StartUp Visa Act of 2010
Creates a new visa for foreign entrpreneurs backed by venture capital firms who obtain at least $250,000 in funding for startups that will create at least five U.S. jobs.
Referred to one committee
H.R.1791 -- STAPLE Act
Allows aliens who have earned a Ph.D. in the U.S. in science, technology, engineering, or math to stay permanently, exempted from the limits on H-1B visas.
Referred to three committees

H.R.5658 Securing Knowledge, Innovation, and Leadership Act of 2010

Increases the cap on H-1B visas by 20 percent. Includes other provisions to allow aliens to be exempted from H-1B limits or to extend an L-1 visa stay.
Referred to committees

 

Bill Number
Sponsors
Up for 2010 re-election?
H.R. 5397

Rep. William (Bill) Pascrell, Jr. [D-NJ8]

Rosa DeLauro [D-CT3]

Dana Rohrabacher [R-CA46]

Yes

Yes

No

H.R. 4321

Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-TX)

And 103 co-sponsors. All of them Democrats.

Yes

 

H.R. 4259

Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO)

And 4 co-sponsors. All of them Democrats

No

 

S. 2804

Sen. Bernard (Bernie) Sanders [I-VT]

Co-sponsor Charles Grassley [R-IA]

No

Yes

S. 3029

Sen. John Kerry [D-MA]
Co-sponsors Richard Lugar [R-IN]
Mark Udall [D-CO]

No
No
No

H.R. 5193

Rep. Carolyn Maloney [D-NY14]

Diane Watson [D-CA33]

No

No

H.R.1791

Rep Jeff Flake [R-AZ6]

5 co-sponsors, two Republican, three Democrats

No

H.R.5658

Rep John Shadegg, [R-AZ3]

and co-sponsor Rep Charles Djou. [R-HI1]

No

No

Note: This article was researched per the request of a reader who wished to remain anonymous. You know who you are and thank you for your help. If you have a news tip or article suggestion, send it along to me, jbort@nww.com.

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