H-1B: A Favorite of American Tech Companies

By Roy Mark  |  Posted 2009-02-18 Print this article Print

A favorite of American technology companies, the H-1B program is a temporary work visa program allowing American companies and universities to employ foreign guest workers who have the equivalent of a U.S. bachelor's degree in a job category that is considered by the USCIS (U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services) to be a "specialty occupation."

The idea is to help companies hire foreign workers on a temporary basis when there is not a sufficient qualified American work force to meet those needs. H-1B visa winners can work in the United States for three years, with an option for an additional three years.

Silicon Valley has repeatedly urged Congress to raise the H-1B cap, which is currently set at 65,000 visas per fiscal year, but lawmakers have resisted, citing concerns over fraud in the H-1B program.

In October 2008, a USCIS report found that the H-1B program has more than a 20 percent violation rate. The fraud identified in the report included jobs not located where employers claimed, H-1B visa holders not being paid the prevailing wage, forged documents, fraudulent degrees and "shell businesses."

Even before the report was issued, Senators Charles Grassley of Iowa, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Bernie Sanders of Vermont were seeking reform of the H-1B visa program. A bill introduced in the 110th Congress by Grassley and Durbin would require employers to make a good-faith effort to hire American workers first. Employers would also have to show that the H-1B worker would not displace an American worker.

The bill, likely to be reintroduced in the new Congress, would require employers to advertise job openings on a Department of Labor Web site before submitting an H-1B application. In addition, the bill would give the Department of Labor a mandate to conduct random audits of any company that uses the H-1B program and would require annual audits of companies with more than 100 employees that have 15 percent or more of those workers on H-1B visas.

"This is about protecting the American worker," Grassley said in a statement accompanying the bill. "We're closing loopholes that employers have exploited by requiring them to be more transparent about their hiring, and we're ensuring more oversight of these visa programs to reduce fraud and abuse. A little sunshine will go a long way to help the American worker."


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