New bill seeks to reserve H-1B visa for foreign students in US

20 January 2017

A new bill in Congress proposes to give foreign students graduating from US institutions schools priority in getting an H-1B visa. The visa should be distributed to US graduates first, before granting these to outsourcing firms, say its sponsors

The bill, the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act, which is specifically intended to promote American talent, "explicitly prohibits" replacement of American workers by visa holders, says a report in Computerworld.

This legislation is being sponsored jointly by US Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), longtime allies on H-1B reform. Grassley is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which gives this bill an immediate big leg up in the legislative process.

The bill seeks to end the current practice of random distribution of H-1B visa via lottery every year and replace it with a system to give priority to certain types of students.

"Congress created these programs to complement America's high-skilled workforce, not replace it," said Grassley, in a statement. "Unfortunately, some companies are trying to exploit the programs by cutting American workers for cheaper labour."

Those students who have received advanced degree from a US school and preferred skills will have greater chance of getting a well-paid job under the H-1B visa.

The specific skills weren't identified, but will likely be STEM-related and it has been left to the US Citizenship and Immigration Service to develop a priority system.
The bill requires "all employers who seek to hire H-1B visa holders to first make a good-faith effort to recruit American workers" - something that Grassley and Durbin have long sought in prior bills.

IT services firms that use H-1B workers to offshore work will face new restrictions. The bill prohibits a firm with "more than 50 employees, of which at least half are H-1B or L-1 holders, from hiring additional H-1B employees."

President-elect Donald Trump's administration - which takes office at noon today - is also considering changes to the visa lottery system, and it is possible that he could order reforms in advance of legislation.

Besides, the bill is likely to get amended to incorporate changes in visa distribution system that gives priority to salary and/or favors non-dependent H-1B-using firms over H-1B-dependent firms. An employer that has 15 per cent or more workers on visa is considered a dependent firm.

The bill also provides for the US Department of Labor to conduct investigations, besides new data reporting, including the gender of H-1B workers, says the report.

The bill appears to raise the wages of L-1 workers, and includes new enforcement and audits. The L-1 is used for intra-company transfers.

"For years, foreign outsourcing companies have used loopholes in the laws to displace qualified American workers and facilitate the outsourcing of American jobs," said Durbin. "The H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act would end these abuses and protect American and foreign workers from exploitation."

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