H1-B reform bill HR-170 seeks to tighten loophole in US visa law

06 Jan 2017


The first week of the new Congress would see US representative Darrell Issa (Republican-California.) attempt to win support for a controversial H-1B reform bill.

The bill, introduced on Wednesday, is called the "Protect and Grow American Jobs Act" (HR 170) and co-sponsored by representative Scott Peters (Democrat-California). The bill aims to tighten, but not close, a loophole in the visa law that had benefitted large H-1B-using firms.

The bipartisan bill, introduced by Issa last July after facing criticism, had stalled in committee. According to commentators, the big difference this year was the impending inauguration of president-elect Donald Trump.

Trump had made clear that he wanted to reform the H-1B program and appeared open to legislation that accomplished that goal.

However, they say the reform measure proposed by Trump might fall short of what Trump's ideas he outlined in the 2016 campaign.

Issa's legislation, which he said was in response to IT worker displacements at Southern California Edison and Disney, focused on an 18-year-old loophole in the law.

In 1998, Congress adopted legislation that approved a visa cap increase but also prohibited firms from displacing US workers if they employed 15 per cent or more visa workers.

The law also required a "good faith" effort by companies to first hire a US worker, but the protections were torpedoed in the same bill, by lawmakers. US workers could be displaced by a visa-holding employee who held a master's degree or was paid at least $60,000.

However, representative, Zoe Lofgren, a Santa Clara County Democrat, warned yesterday that she believed Issa's bill could undermine Silicon Valley's job market. According to Lofgren, that was because tech companies in a location such as Silicon Valley, where software engineers could command a starting wage of $140,000 a year, might still have incentives to use foreign workers for $100,000.

''Raising the wage from $60,000 to $100,000 would do nothing to prevent the sort of outsourcing abuse we've seen under the H-1B visa program,'' Lofgren said, www.mercurynews.com reported. ''It could worsen outsourcing, particularly for high-income areas like Silicon Valley.''

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