Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Charles Grassley of Iowa are continuing their quest to reform the H-1B visa program, on April 23 reintroducing legislation aimed at reducing fraud and abuse in the controversial program. The H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act does not seek to dismantle the program or to change the numerical cap of visas available to petitioning employers.
The two lawmakers introduced similar legislation in the last session of Congress but failed to rally support for the bill. The legislation seeks reforms to increase enforcement, modify wage requirements and ensure protection for visa holders and American workers.
"The H-1B program was never meant to replace qualified American workers. It was meant to complement them because of a shortage of workers in specialized fields," Grassley said in a statement. "In tough economic times like we're seeing, it's even more important that we do everything possible to see that Americans are given every consideration when applying for jobs."
The H-1B program is a temporary work visa program allowing American companies and universities to employ foreign workers who have the equivalent of a U.S. bachelor's degree in a job category that is classified by the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services to be a "specialty occupation." The program is particularly made use of by the technology industry.
The U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services is accepting H-1B visa applications in 2009 with terms and conditions imposed by the recently approved Employ American Workers Act. Click here to read more.
Critics of the program have long claimed U.S. employers are using H-1B visas to hire workers for less than the U.S. prevailing rate, but the controversy gained serious traction after the government released a report that revealed rampant fraud and a more than a 20 percent violation rate by employers who use the H-1B visa program.
"The H-1B visa program should complement the U.S. work force, not replace it," Durbin said in a statement. "Congress created the H-1B visa program so an employer could hire a foreign guest worker when a qualified American worker could not be found. However, the H-1B visa program is plagued with fraud and abuse and is now a vehicle for outsourcing that deprives qualified American workers of their jobs. Our bill will put a stop to the outsourcing of American jobs and discrimination against American workers."
The H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act would require all employers who want to hire an H-1B guest worker to first make a good-faith attempt to recruit a qualified American worker. Employers would be prohibited from using H-1B visa holders to displace qualified American workers. It would also prohibit what Grassley and Durbin call the "blatantly discriminatory" practice of "H-1B only" ads and prohibit employers from hiring additional H-1B workers if more than 50 percent of their employees are H-1B holders.
"When Citizenship and Immigration Services reports that there is more than a 20 percent violation rate in the H-1B visa program," Grassley said, "It's pretty clear that many companies are abusing the program and not using it as was intended. Fraud and abuse of the H-1B visa program will not be tolerated and our bill puts companies on notice."
The Grassley-Durbin legislation would also significantly beef up the government's ability to investigate potential H-1B fraud. The Department of Labor, for instance, is only authorized to review applications for "completeness and obvious inaccuracies." The Department of Labor currently does not even have the authority to open an investigation of an employer suspected of abusing the H-1B program unless it receives a formal complaint.