Bipartisan H1B, L1 visa reform bill introduced in US Congress
A bipartisan group of four US lawmakers, including Indian-American Ro Khanna, today introduced a legislation in the Congress to reform the current H-1B and L1 work visas and end its abuse by foreign companies.
The H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2017 introduced by Congressmen Bill Pascrell, Dave Brat, Khanna and Paul Gosar is in addition to the nearly half a dozen similar legislations pending in the US Congress either the House of Representatives or the Senate all of whom seek to close loopholes in the H-1B and L visa programmes to reduce fraud and abuse, provide protections for American workers and visa holders.
Interestingly the latest move from four Congressmen come a day after a NASSCOM delegation concluded its trip to the US during which they met a number of US lawmakers to sensitise them about the importance of H-1B and L1 visas.
A significant chunk of US political leadership believes that Indian companies are major beneficiaries of this foreign guest worker programme and allege that this resulted in the displacement of American workers.
The H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2017 has the endorsement of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
The bill, a companion to the Senate's version sponsored by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), would restore Congress' original intent for the H-1B and L-1 visa programs, a media release said.
The bill, if passed by both the House and the Senate and signed into law by the US President, would require employers to make a good faith effort to recruit and hire American workers before bringing in foreign workers and prohibits employers from replacing American workers with H-1B and L-1 workers or giving preference to H-1B visa holders when they are filling open positions.
It will modify existing H-1B wage requirements, and establish wage requirements for L-1 workers.
The bill proposes to prohibit employers from outsourcing H-1B and L-1 visa holders to other sites unless the employer obtains a waiver which is available only in limited circumstances when the rights of American workers are protected.
It gives more authority to the Departments of Homeland Security and Labor to investigate fraud and abuse in the H-1B and L-1 programmes by requiring the two departments to audit employers and share information, ensuring visa petitions are more effectively scrutinised.
Among others, it proposes to prohibiting companies from hiring H-1B employees if they employ more than 50 people and more than 50 per cent of their employees are H-1B and L-1 visa holders. This provision of the bill would majorly impact Indian companies.
The bill calls for the creation of a new H-1B visa allocation system that gives top priority to workers who have earned advanced science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) degrees from US institutions.
It recommends increasing penalties on those who violate the law and provides visa holders with a list of rights before they enter the US to ensure they are better protected against mistreatment or underpayment of wages.
"This legislation will offer reforms that eliminate the abuse of the H1-B visa programme. As the son of immigrants, I know that immigrants strengthen our nation and economy. But we cannot allow for companies to underpay foreign workers and use them to replace American workers," Khanna said.
"Instead, we need American companies to invest in our own workforce. The bill will prevent the exploitation of foreign workers while still recognising the contributions immigrants make to our economy," he said.
Congressman Pascrell said abusing the visa system to get cheap labour hurts the American middle class and is something he cannot accept.
"The critical reforms in this bill will support American workers and create safeguards against the exploitation of visa workers," he said.
"Too often companies capitalise on the loopholes in our immigration system to displace high-skilled American workers in search of cheap labour. This bipartisan legislation presents a real opportunity to prevent fraud and abuse in our visa system so it better serves the American worker," Brat said.
According to the Congressman, the legislation would close loopholes in the H-1B and L visa programmes to reduce fraud and abuse, provide protections for American workers and visa holders, and require more transparency in the recruitment of foreign workers.
"This bipartisan legislation would overhaul the H-1B and L-1 visa programmes to protect workers and crack down on foreign outsourcing companies which deprive qualified Americans of high-skill jobs," the media release said.