Big trouble with temporary work visa for professional workers.

The likes of Micosoft, Google, Intel and the rest of the IT lobby in Washington have not been able to get Congress to add more slots. In fact, one lobbyist called the Senate reform bill of May a disaster. The point system plan worked against the interests of the lobbying firms because it stripped employers of picking the workers they wanted. And Washington is paying more attention to abuses in the current H-IB program whereby foreign holders of the visas are paid less than their American peers.
From the NY Times article of today, “High-Tech Titans Strike Out on Immigration Bill” –
High-tech companies want to be able to hire larger numbers of well-educated, foreign-born professionals who, they say, can help them succeed in the global economy. For these scientists and engineers, they seek permanent-residence visas, known as green cards, and H-1B visas. The H-1B program provides temporary work visas for people who have university degrees or the equivalent to fill jobs in specialty occupations including health care and technology. The Senate bill would expand the number of work visas for skilled professionals, but high-tech companies say the proposed increase is not nearly enough. Several provisions of the Senate bill are meant to enhance protections for American workers and to prevent visa fraud and abuse.
High-tech companies were surprised and upset by the bill that emerged last month from secret Senate negotiations. E. John Krumholtz, director of federal affairs at Microsoft, said the bill was “worse than the status quo, and the status quo is a disaster.”
In the last two weeks, these businesses have quietly negotiated for changes to meet some of their needs. But the bill still falls far short of what they want, an outcome suggesting that their political clout does not match their economic strength.
Stephen W. Yale-Loehr, a co-author of a treatise on immigration law, said: “High-tech companies are very organized. They have numerous lobby groups. When Bill Gates advocates more H-1B visas and green cards for tech workers, everyone listens.
“But that supposed influence has not translated into legislative results,” Mr. Yale-Loehr, who teaches at Cornell Law School, continued. “High-tech companies have been lobbying unsuccessfully since 2003 for more H-1B visas. It’s hard to get anything through Congress these days. In addition, anti-immigrant groups are well organized. U.S. computer programmers are constantly arguing that H-1B workers undercut their wages.”
Many high-tech companies bring in foreign professionals on temporary H-1B visas. The government is swamped with petitions. On the first two days of the application period in April, it received more than 123,000 petitions for 65,000 slots.
The Senate bill would raise the cap to 115,000 in 2008, with a possible increase to 180,000 in later years, based on labor market needs.
Many high-tech businesses want to hire foreign students who obtain advanced degrees from American universities, and many of the students want to work here, but cannot get visas.
Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip, and Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, have a proposal that would overhaul the H-1 B program and give priority to American workers. Their proposal would also define, in great detail, the wages that must be paid to workers who have H-1B visas.
Mr. Durbin contended that some companies have used foreign workers to undercut the wages of American workers. And in some cases, he said, foreign workers come to this country for a few years of training, then return home “to populate businesses competing with the United States.”
“The H-1B visa program is being abused by foreign companies to deprive qualified Americans of good jobs,” Mr. Durbin said. “Some companies are so brazen, they say ‘no Americans need apply’ in their job advertisements.”
High-tech companies said that the wage standards in the Durbin-Grassley proposal would, in effect, require them to pay some H-1B employees more than some equally qualified American workers who are performing the same duties.
The Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, said that thousands of H-1B workers have been paid less than the prevailing wage.
One company, Patni Computer Systems, agreed this month to pay more than $2.4 million to 607 workers with visas after Labor Department investigators found that they had not been paid the wages required by federal law. The company’s global headquarters are in Mumbai, India, and its American operations are based in Cambridge, Mass.

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