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US Senators Propose Legislation to Tighten H-1B Visas

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The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on April 1, started receiving H-1B petitions for the fiscal year 2016 beginning October 1, 2015. Credit: Reuters

Washington: Two powerful US senators have announced they will introduce a legislation which, if passed by the Congress would give preference to foreigners studying in US universities, a move that will tighten the noose around the H-1B visa programme and could hurt Indian IT firms.

The bill to be introduced by senators Chuck Grassley and Dick Durbin will require US Citizenship and Immigration Services to prioritise annual allocation of H-1B visas. It will ensure the “best and brightest” students being educated in the US receive preference for an H-1B visa, a statement issued by the senators said.

The preference will also bolster advanced degree holders, those being paid a high wage and those with valuable skills, the statement said.

“Congress created these programmes to complement America’s high-skilled workforce, not replace it. Unfortunately, some companies are trying to exploit the programmes by cutting American workers for cheaper labour,” Grassley said.

“We need programmes dedicated to putting American workers first. When skilled foreign workers are needed to meet the demands of our labour market, we must also ensure that visa applicants who honed their skills at American colleges and universities are a priority over the importation of more foreign workers,” he said.

“Our bill takes these steps to ensure that the programmes work for Americans and skilled foreign workers alike,” said Grassley, chairman of the senate judiciary committee.

The legislation restores Congress’ original intent in the H-1B and L-1 visa programmes by increasing enforcement, modifying wage requirements and securing protections for both US workers and visa holders.

“Reforming the H-1B and L-1 visa programmes is a critical component of fixing our broken immigration system and must be included in comprehensive immigration reform legislation,” Durbin said.

“For years, foreign outsourcing companies have used loopholes in the laws to displace qualified American workers and facilitate the outsourcing of American jobs. The H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act would end these abuses and protect American and foreign workers from exploitation. I thank senator Grassley for partnering with me on this important bipartisan legislation,” he said.

The bill among other things would crack down on outsourcing companies that import large numbers of H-1B and L-1 workers for temporary training purposes only to send the workers back to their home countries to do the same job.

Specifically, it would prohibit companies with more than 50 employees, of which at least half are H-1B or L-1 holders, from hiring additional H-1B employees, the statement said.

The proposed legislation gives the department of labour enhanced authority to review, investigate, and audit employer compliance with programme requirements, as well as to penalise fraudulent or abusive conduct. It requires the production of extensive statistical data about the H-1B and L-1 programs, including wage data, worker education levels, place of employment and gender.

According to the senators, the bill clarifies that working conditions of similarly employed US workers may not be adversely affected by the hiring of a H-1B worker, including workers who have been placed by another employer at the US worker’s worksite.

In addition, it explicitly prohibits the replacement of US workers by H-1B or L-1 visa holders.

These provisions address the types of abuses that have been well-documented in recent press reports.

In addition, the bill includes several reforms of the L-1 visa programme. These include establishment of a wage floor for L-1 workers; authority to the Department of Homeland Security to investigate, audit and enforce compliance with L-1 programme requirements; assurance that intra-company transfers occur between legitimate branches of a company and don’t involve ‘shell’ facilities; and recommends changes be made to the definition of “specialised knowledge” to ensure that L-1 visas are reserved only for key personnel.

(PTI)