The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.
A group of influential lawmakers have introduced a bipartisan legislation in the US Senate to comprehensively overhaul the H-1B and L-1 visa programmes and usher in more transparency in the recruitment of foreign workers.
The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. Technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.
The L-1 is the other type of work visa the US issues to professionals looking to work in the country.
Unlike the H-1B, where an individual is looking to join an American company, the L-1 visa is issued to those who are already employed by the company in another country, and who are merely relocating to an American office.
Two influential Senators — Dick Durbin and Chuck Grassley — have introduced this legislation in the US Senate.
The co-sponsors include Senators Tommy Tuberville, Bernie Sanders, Sherrod Brown, and Richard Blumenthal.
The H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act will reduce fraud and abuse in the immigration system, provide protections for American workers and visa holders, and require more transparency in the recruitment of foreign workers, a media release said on Tuesday. The legislation proposes to place new wage, recruitment and attestation requirements on employers looking to hire L-1 and H-1B workers, and employers seeking to hire H-1B employees to post those jobs on the Department of Labour (DOL) website, it said.
It also proposes to give DOL the authority to place a fee on labour condition applications and use it to hire an additional 200 DOL employees and make reforms to the H-1B programme by prioritising the H-1B visa issuance for workers with higher levels of education in STEM and amending the definition of a “specialty occupation” to require a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the release.
The legislation seeks reforms to the L-1 nonimmigrant programme, including new time limits and evidentiary requirements for petitions from a “new office” and mandating cooperation from the Department of State in verifying foreign affiliates.
“For years, outsourcing companies have used legal loopholes to displace qualified American workers and replace them with foreign workers who are paid sub-par wages and put under exploitative working conditions,” Democratic Party Senator Durbin said. “These actions hurt all workers and make our country less attractive to the world’s top talent. Our legislation would fix these broken programs, protect workers, and put an end to these abuses,” he explained.
The H-1B and L-1 visa programmes were established to fill in gaps in America’s high-skilled workforce, not supplant it, Grassley, a Republican, said.
“Unfortunately, some companies have exploited these programmes to replace American workers with cheaper labour, which ultimately harms American workers and foreign labour alike. Our bill puts American workers first and ensures that the programmes promote fairness for all workers,” he said.
Durbin and Grassley, long-time advocates for H-1B and L-1 visa reform, first introduced the legislation in 2007.
Authors of this legislation said the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act would stop these abuses by closing loopholes in these programmes.
The legislation will also crackdown on companies that hire large numbers of H-1B and L-1 workers to displace American workers and facilitate the outsourcing of American jobs, the media release added.
Thousands of highly skilled foreign-born workers, including Indians, in the US, have lost their jobs due to the series of recent layoffs at companies like Google, Microsoft and Amazon.
According to The Washington Post, nearly 200,000 IT workers have been laid off since November last year.
Industry insiders say that between 30 to 40 per cent of them are Indian IT professionals, a significant number of whom are on H-1B and L1 visas.