New H-1B Legislation Proposes Giving Priority To U.S.-Educated Foreigners
Students and pedestrians walk outside the Low Memorial Library at the Columbia University campus in New York. (Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)  

New H-1B Legislation Proposes Giving Priority To U.S.-Educated Foreigners

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A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a legislation in both the chambers of the U.S. Congress proposing major reforms in skilled non-immigrant visa programmes by giving priority to U.S.-educated foreign technology professionals in H-1B work visas.

The H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act, as introduced in the House of Representatives and Senate, will require U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to prioritise for the first time the annual allocation of H-1B visas.

The new system would ensure that the best and brightest students being educated in the U.S. receive preference for an H-1B visa, including advanced degree holders, those being paid a high wage, and those with valuable skills, proponents of this legislative reform said.

Protections For American Workers, Visa Holders

In the Senate, it was introduced by Senators Chuck Grassley and Dick Durbin. In the House of Representatives, it was introduced by Congressmen Bill Pascrell, Paul Gosar, Ro Khanna, Frank Pallone and Lance Gooden.

The legislation reinstates Congress' original intent in the H-1B and L-1 visa programmes by increasing enforcement, modifying wage requirements and securing protections for both American workers and visa holders, the lawmakers said.

The legislation, among other things, explicitly prohibits the replacement of American workers by H-1B or L-1 visa holders, clarifying that working conditions of similarly employed American workers may not be adversely affected by the hiring of an H-1B worker, including H-1B workers who have been placed by another employer at the American worker’s worksite.

These provisions address the types of abuses that have been well-documented.

‘Complement, Not Replace U.S. Workforce’

Importantly, the legislation proposes increased crackdown 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, the bill 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.

Asserting that Congress created these programmes to complement America's high-skilled workforce, not replace it, Senator Grassley said that unfortunately, some companies are trying to exploit the programmes by cutting American workers for cheaper labour.

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. Our bill takes steps to ensure that the programmes work for Americans and skilled foreign workers alike, he said.

Reforming the H-1B and L-1 visa programmes is a critical component of fixing the broken immigration system. For years, outsourcing companies have used loopholes in the laws to displace qualified American workers and facilitate the outsourcing of American jobs, Durbin said.

This legislation would end these abuses and protect American and foreign workers from exploitation, Durbin said.

Indian-American Congressman Ro Khanna said that American immigrants come to this country with some of the most innovative, transformative ideas this world has ever seen.

If we’re going to continue to foster a culture of creativity, we must reform the H-1 and L-1 visa programmes to protect all workers from abuses. Immigrants coming here on H-1B visas have made important contributions to Silicon Valley’s leadership in the digital revolution. We want to make sure that talent is coming to the U.S., but we also want to make sure that it’s being done with proper compensation.
Ro Khanna, U.S. Representative From California’s 17th Congressional District
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