A photo of the United States Capitol, Washington, D.C.

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Bill to reform U.S. skilled worker visa programs is effort to ‘build momentum’

Lawmakers don’t usually acknowledge that the bills they introduce in Congress have little chance of passage in the near future, but that’s what Representative Bill Pascrell, Jr., (D-NJ) did in an 18 July phone press conference to discuss the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2016, which he introduced in the House of Representatives on 8 July. Still, “we’re trying to build momentum” and raise awareness of the need to reform these high-skill guest worker visa programs, he said. He introduced the bill now, he added, because the issue needs attention and is not included in the Democratic Party’s platform.

The H-1B program was designed “to fill skill gaps … and to bring exceptionally talented workers” to the United States, Pascrell said, but “there [is] clear evidence that [the L-1 and H-1B] programs are not working” and are permitting American workers to be displaced by guest workers. The H-1B was “never meant to replace” Americans in jobs they have the skills to do, he added. 

There is “no credible evidence to support” the “false premises of the H-1B program [that there is a] shortage of STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] workers,” noted press conference participant and labor economist Hal Salzman of Rutgers University, New Brunswick, in New Jersey. “We have a very large vigorous university system that is graduating people who are qualified,” and the visas constitute “a wholesale replacement program.”

The programs have “spun out of control,” said labor market expert Ron Hira of Howard University in Washington, D.C, also at the press conference. “Congress and multiple administrations have basically created a very lucrative, profitable business model.” That model, he added, is based on “undercutting a key sector of our workforce.”

Co-sponsored by Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), the bill would, according to a statement by Pascrell’s office:

  • Require employers to make a good faith effort to recruit and hire American workers before bringing in visa workers and prohibit employers from replacing American workers or giving preference to visa holders when they are filling open positions
  • Prohibit companies from hiring H-1B employees if they employ more than 50 people and more than 50% of their employees are H-1B and L-1 visa holders.
  • Provide more authority to the Departments of Homeland Security and Labor to investigate fraud and abuse in the H-1B and L-1 programs
  • Modify existing H-1B wage requirements, and establish wage requirements for L-1 workers
  • Provide visa holders with a list of rights before they enter the U.S. so that they are better protected against mistreatment or underpayment of wages

“We know what the problem is, and we know how to fix it,” Hira said. “The congressman’s bill does the fix. Now it’s just the politics.”

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