Congress Reviews Foreign Worker Visa Programs

Bill is being introduced to close loopholes in employment visa laws, which some claim are taking jobs away from U.S. workers.

WASHINGTON—In the boom times of the late 1990s, U.S. corporations widely turned to foreign workers to fill highly skilled jobs, particularly in the technology field. Now, in the continuing economic downturn, foreign workers are being blamed for displacing their homegrown counterparts.

Wednesday, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., will introduce a bill crafted to close loopholes in employment visa laws, which he says allow companies to hire foreign employees and outsource them to other companies.

"We must make sure that our immigration policies dont have a backlash effect on displacing American workers," Chambliss said Tuesday. "[The bill] will end the practice of companies who are displacing American workers."

The Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday took a look at the role of temporary work visas in the current economy. The technology industrys use of H-1B visas dropped approximately 75 percent last year, with initial H-1B visa applications falling to 26,659 in 2002 from 105,692 in 2001, according to the Department of Homeland Security Office of Immigration Security.

Despite the statistics, as unemployment rises in the United States, lawmakers are hearing from their constituents.

"I cannot tell you how many workers came up to me [in August in California] and said, Ive been replaced by somebody I trained, and theyre getting a third [the salary] of what I got," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday. "Wherever I go, this program comes up and somebody tells me theyve been replaced, and they are angry."

/zimages/5/26680.gifSome U.S. IT workers claim the L-1 visa program cost them their jobs. Click here to read about that controversial program.

Intel Corp., which employs close to 80,000 workers worldwide, hires individuals through the H1-B visa program when a position requires unique or difficult-to-find skills, Patrick Duffy, human resources attorney at Intel, told lawmakers. Beginning in 2001, Intel decreased hiring overall, but it continues to hire H-1B applicants when it cannot find qualified U.S. workers, Duffy said. The company has particular difficulty hiring U.S. citizens for positions in electrical engineering design and chemical engineering, he said.

Duffy contended that the H-1B visa program does not displace U.S. workers and ultimately benefits the U.S. economy. Most of the companys H-1B visa employees studied at U.S. universities and earned masters degrees and doctorates.

"These are not temporary workers to us. The H-1B visa is just one step in making these workers U.S. workers," Duffy said. "Hopefully theyll stay with Intel ... the rest of their lives."

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