A pair of Congresswomen this week raised questions about the L-1 visa and promised to fight abuses of the program, which some say has cost the jobs of American IT workers.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) announced plans to introduce legislation that will, among other things, place an annual cap of 35,000 on L-1 visas and will require L-1 workers to be paid prevailing U.S. wages. The bill would also deny L-1s to any company that has laid off an American worker in the six months before or after filing an L-1 application.
“At a time when domestic employment is at an all-time high and tens and thousands of jobless tech workers and others are looking for work, it is important to close the loopholes that disadvantage American workers,” DeLauro said in a press release.
Another Connecticut lawmaker this week also vowed to take action against the alleged misuse of L-1 visas. Spurred into action by a group of unemployed IT workers, Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) urged Congress on Wednesday to remedy what she sees as a weakness in both L-1 and H-1B visa laws.
Johnson, who has already co-sponsored a bill to restrict L-1 visas, told the U.S. House Small Business Committee about a “sobering” meeting in April with several laid-off IT workers. They told her “that their former employers were replacing them with cheaper workers brought in from overseas on H-1B or L-1 visas.
“In some cases the American worker was instructed to train the new arrival only to be summarily dismissed and replaced by the foreign worker,” Johnson said.
During the dot-com boom in October of 2000, Congress extended the annual cap on new H-1B visas, which allow foreign workers to take temporary jobs in the United States, from 115,000 to 195,000 to meet the perceived shortage of IT workers. The cap will revert to 65,000 on Oct. 1, unless Congress extends it—a move which Johnson on Wednesday urged against. Johnsons press secretary, Brain Schubert, said he was not aware of any movement afoot in Congress to extend the bill.
The number of H-1B visas issued has declined in recent years, but a lesser-known visa—the L1—has skyrocketed. According to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, the number of L-1 visa admissions surged from 75,315 in 1992 to 328,480 in 2001.
The L-1 visa program was created to allow multinational companies to more easily and quickly transfer employees from their foreign subsidiaries, affiliates or parent companies to the United States. But “a cottage industry has emerged to exploit the L-1 visa program,” Johnson said in her testimony. “It appears that companies can be constituted with the express purpose of funneling workers into the United States. IT consultancies with operations overseas, for example, are using the L-1 visa program to import workers who are then contracted out to domestic companies.”
Unlike the H-1B, there is no cap on the number of L-1 visas that can be issued, nor does the L-1 program require that foreign workers receive prevailing U.S. wages. That is “why the H-1Bs are decreasing, and L-1s increasing,” says John Bauman, president of The Organization for the Rights of American Workers. TORAW, as it is known, is a grassroots group based in Meriden, Conn., that was formed by several laid-off IT workers.
Bauman was one of the unemployed IT workers who met with Johnson in April, and he was pleased with her testimony. “Thats exactly what we told her,” he said.
Johnson is co-sponsor of a bill introduced in Congress last month with Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.) that aims to prohibit the outsourcing of L-1 visa holders. Under the bill, companies would only be able employ L-1 visa holders from their foreign subsidiaries, not from third parties.
“Unfortunately the L-1 visa program, while well-intentioned, has been used as a back door to cheap labor,” Mica said in a statement.
Critics of Micas bill, such as the Washington-based American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), claim that the bills “provisions are overreaching and would prohibit legitimate and necessary uses of the L-1 visa.”
“If Congress unnecessarily limits the legitimate use of the L visa program, both foreign investment in the U.S. and the work of international companies based in the U.S. would be impeded, with the consequence that American jobs will be lost instead of protected,” according to a newsletter sent out by the AILA this week.
Johnsons office declined to comment on the criticism.
“The end game is to see that these visa laws are used in the spirit they were created,” said Schubert, Johnsons press secretary.