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.