Regardless of which party they identify with, most everyone on Capitol Hill can agree that the H1-B visa program for high-tech workers has been notoriously abused by employers and needs to be reformed.
President Trump’s signing of a “Buy American” executive order last month called for the Labor Department to review the immigrant worker visa program, but in order to make real changes, legislation has to be approved by Congress.
To that end, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. has co-sponsored one of four H1-B reform bills that have recently been introduced in Congress. “The odds are pretty good. This is a very clear priority for the administration,” said spokesman Calvin Moore.
“What we see from members of Congress is that there is a need and a desire to crack down on the bad actors in the industry,” said Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, a coalition group that includes Microsoft, Facebook and other technology companies.
Each year, the Labor Department uses a lottery system to give out 85,000 visas, and the number of applications for them always greatly exceeds that. However, the number of applications for this year’s batch of visas has fallen from 233,000 to about 199,000, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
So far, it looks like reform will entail raising the minimum salary and education levels for the visa workers, which will raise the cost of the visas for the companies that sponsor them. In addition, raising education requirements will give visa recipients the leverage to demand higher salaries.
The minimum salary for visa recipients is currently $60,000, so two of the proposed reform bills seek to raise that number to more than $100,000, which would open up more jobs for U.S. high-tech workers, reformers say.
Some reformers are considering new ways to allocate the visas. For instance, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers’ Biggs suggested putting the visas on auction. “Let it go to the highest bidders. If these visas are so valuable, employers should be willing to pay whatever the market rate is,” he said.
Critic Shikha Dalmia, a policy analyst with the free-market Reason Foundation, called the reform proposals “a naked attempt to price out foreign techies from the labor market.” But why shouldn’t the system be designed to benefit U.S.-born American workers?
The claim that there is a shortage of STEM “science, technology, engineering and math” workers in the U.S. economy has been debated, but legislation limiting the visas is gaining support as lawmakers realize its in their common interest.
Co-sponsoring legislation to raise the minimum salary to $110,000, Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla. commented, “We haven’t yet reached out [across the aisle], but we should. We have a pretty common interest. There are a lot of people who have the same frustration with the program that I have.”
DML explained the H1-B visa issue during an episode of The Truth a few weeks ago. Here is the segment:
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