« March 2013 | Main | May 2013 »

April 16, 2013

Key points in Gang of 8's immigration reform bill

NBC News reported today the following summary of the Gang of 8’s immigration bill, to be released shortly:

Allow undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States continually since before December 31, 2011 to apply for “Registered Provisional Immigrant Status” if they pay back taxes and $500 in fines, and if they have not been convicted of a felony or 3 or more misdemeanors or voted illegally. Individuals with this status can work for any employer and travel outside the country but are not eligible to receive means-tested federal public benefits.

After 10 years in Registered Provisional Immigrant Status, individuals will be eligible – pending border security measures and a clearing of existing backlogs for legal immigrants – to earn a merit-based green card if they have worked in the United States, demonstrated knowledge of the English language and paid an additional fine of $1000.

Allow eligible DREAM act applicants and certain agricultural workers to apply for green cards within five years

Regarding border security, the bill would set a goal of “90% effectiveness” – meaning the rate of apprehensions and turnbacks of potential entrants – per fiscal year in the most high-risk areas of the southern border. If that goal is not met within five years, a bipartisan “Border Commission” made up of border state governors and experts will be formed to issue new recommendations on how to achieve it.

Allocate $3 billion for increased surveillance and manpower along the country’s southern border and an additional $1.5 billion for fencing.

Include a border security “trigger” requiring that no undocumented immigrant can achieve legal “Registered Provisional Immigrant” status until strategies for border security have been submitted by the Department of Homeland Security to Congress.

Require an additional “trigger” that prevents those with “Registered Provisional Immigrant” status from becoming eligible to apply for Lawful Permanent Resident status until the Department of Homeland Security and the Comptroller General certify that border security strategies are operational and a mandatory employment verification system has been implemented.

Create a new “W” visa program to allow non-agricultural temporary workers to come to the United States to work for registered employers.
Eliminate family-based visas for siblings of United States citizens as well as the Diversity Visa program while eliminating caps on visas for certain employment-based categories.

Use a point system for a new “merit based” visa, of which 120,000 would initially be awarded per year, with a maximum cap of 250,000 annually. Points will be awarded based on criteria including education, employment and length of residence in the U.S.

Require an “enhanced E-Verify” system to prevent ineligible workers from taking jobs in the United States. Employers with more than 5,000 employees will be phased in within two years; employers with more than 500 employees will be phased in within three years.

Raise the annual cap on H1-B visas for high-skilled workers from 65,000 to 110,000, with provisions to prevent such workers from undercutting American wages. Set a maximum cap at 180,000 such visas.

April 12, 2013

IT workers and H-1B visas: necessary or a scam?

A New York Times article today reports on the demand for temporary professional workers from abroad, which is mostly run through the H-1B visa program. Silicon Valley is pressuring Washington to greatly expand the program.

Do these temporary hires suppress the job market prospects for U.S. professionals. And, are temporary visas for professionals, especially in information technology, mainly a way to cycle back to home countries practical expertise in American work styles, thus enabling more overseas outsourcing?

A 2011 GAO report is the source of much that follows:

How many awarded per year:

A statutory cap of 65,000, with exemptions that cause the number to swell well above that.


While the H-1B visa is not considered a permanent visa, H-1B workers can apply for extensions and pursue permanent residence in the United States. Initial petitions are those filed for a foreign national’s first-time employment as an H-1B worker and are valid for a period of up to 3 years. Generally, initial petitions are counted against the annual cap. Extensions—technically referred to as continuing employment petitions—may be filed to extend the initial petitions for up to an additional 3 years

Over the last decade, the top four countries of birth for approved H-1B workers were India, China, Canada, and the Philippines. Across all 10 years, about 64 percent of approved H-1B workers were born in these four countries, with the largest group from India

Employer not required to test U.S. worker supply:

Unlike some other temporary visa programs, the H-1B program does not require employers to provide evidence that they have first “tested” the U.S. labor market by trying to hire a U.S. worker.

Most new H-1B visas are awarded to foreigners already studying in the U.S.:

From fiscal year 2000 to fiscal year 2009, the proportion of newly approved H-1B workers that were already living in the United States increased from 43 to 62 percent. Many of these workers are likely to have been on student or another visa status. In 2000, 40 percent of approved H-1B workers (initial and extensions) possessed an advanced degree (master’s, professional, or Ph.D.), which increased to 59 percent by fiscal year 2009 (see fig. 11). One reason for this increase may be the H-1B Visa Reform Act of 2004, which allowed for an additional 20,000 approvals each year for foreign workers holding a master’s degree or higher from an American institute of higher education.

There has been an increase in the number of approved H-1B workers receiving advanced degrees from U.S. universities, as well as those who are already residing in the United States at the time of H-1B visa approval. This in turn suggests that, in general, the approved H-1B population may include more recent graduates, who are younger and more highly educated, as compared to their U.S. citizen counterparts in similar occupations. In turn, the U.S. citizen population in similar occupations may include older, more experienced workers.

Three key occupations:

The three occupations with the highest number of H-1B approvals relative to the number of U.S. workers in that occupation were (1) systems analysts, programmers, and other computer-related workers;62 (2) electrical and electronics engineers; and (3) college and university educators. For example, among systems analysts, programmers, and other computer-related workers aged 18 to 50, the number of approved H-1B petitions (initial and extensions) was 10 percent of the total stock of U.S. citizen workers in private sector jobs in this occupation in calendar year 2008

Morphing a 1952 initiative for exceptional talent to towards a more general program:

The original H-visa program, established under the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1952, authorized visas for aliens with a residence in a foreign country that the alien had no intention of abandoning, who were of distinguished merit and ability, and were coming to the United States to perform temporary service of an exceptional nature requiring such merit and ability. However, in 1990, besides removing the foreign residence requirement, the original language was replaced with language authorizing H-1B visas for aliens coming temporarily to the United States to perform services in a “specialty occupation.” A specialty occupation was defined as one that required a theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge, and at a minimum, a bachelor’s or higher degree in the specific specialty. This increased the pool of eligible workers to include a wider range of skill levels.

Over half (54 percent) of the workers with approved LCAs (“Labor Condition Application” or the initial H-1B application) from June 2009 through July 2010 were categorized as entry-level positions and were paid at the lowest pay grades allowed under the prevailing wage levels. This pay grade is designated for jobs needing a basic understanding of duties and the ability of the worker to perform routine tasks that require limited judgment. In comparison, 6 percent of approved applicants whose wages were reported on the LCA were paid within the top pay grade designated for workers that requires sufficient experience and a high level of independent judgment.

Transition from H-1B to permanent residence:

Since the 1990s, the law has allowed H-1B workers to pursue permanent residency in the United States and to remain in the country for an unlimited period of time while their permanent residency application is pending. At least 18% of H-1B workers apply for green cards within six years of coming to the U.S.

The role of large staffing companies:

Among the top H-1B-hiring employers—those approved for large numbers of H-1B workers—are employers that function as “staffing companies,” (i.e., employers that apply for H-1B workers but ultimately place these workers at the worksites of other employers as part of their business model, many of which also outsource work overseas).35 Some foreign-owned information technology (IT) services firms have publicly stated that their ability to provide IT services to U.S. customers depends in part on access to significant numbers of H-1B and L-1 visa workers. over the decade, less than 1 percent of all employers with approved petitions were approved to hire almost 30 percent of all H-1B workers.

One critic of H-1B visas says that “In 2012, the 10 employers receiving the largest number of H-1B visas were all in the business of outsourcing and offshoring high-tech American jobs.”

He goes on to say that there are two reasons these firms hire H-1Bs instead of Americans: 1) an H-1B worker can legally be paid less than a U.S. worker in the same occupation and locality; and 2) the H-1B worker learns the job and then rotates back to the home country and takes the work with him. That’s why the H-1B was dubbed the “Outsourcing Visa” by the former Commerce Minister of India, Kamal Nath. Rather than keeping jobs from leaving our shores, the H-1B does the opposite, by facilitating offshoring and providing employers with cheap, temporary labor – while reducing job opportunities for American high-tech workers in the process. The I-Squared Act does nothing to protect against this, while vastly expanding the size of a deeply flawed program that accelerates the offshoring of American high-tech jobs and reduces America’s future capacity to innovate.

April 10, 2013

Immigrant workers unaware of workers compensation

A recent report out of New Hampshire of immigrant workers reveals a shockingly high level of ignorance about worker compensation benefits and their rights to them.

The key findings include:

366 immigrants completed surveys, and 299 (63%) reported working in the U.S. now or at some point in their lives.
• 229 were surveyed about their experience working in New Hampshire.
• The most common reported job/industry categories were factory, cleaning, food service, farming, service, construction and retail.
• 62% of all respondents were not aware of workers’ compensation
29 respondents, or about 10% of those who have worked in the U.S., noted they had been injured at work. Common body parts affected included hands, fingers, wrists, backs, knees, feet, elbows, and abdominal regions.

The “Occupational Health Surveillance Immigrant Survey Report” of February 2013 was prepared by the Occupational Health Surveillance Program of the Division of Public Health Services, New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), in partnership with the New Hampshire Coalition for
Occupational Safety and Health (NH COSH) and the DHHS Office of Minority Health & Refugee Affairs.

This recent study follows a 2006 study. In 2006, NH COSH interviewed 25 immigrant workers who had been injured within the past 3
years. Among this group, there was an overarching issue that workers lacked
information about workers’ compensation and that this hurt them when they tried to obtain benefits. Fifteen of the 25 workers interviewed reported that at the time of their injury they did not know that all of their medical bills were supposed to be paid by workers’ compensation. Six of the 25 people interviewed reported problems
actually getting workers’ compensation to pay medical expenses. At least one additional worker did not try to get medical benefits because he was unaware of the
system. Of the six who had problems, two workers reported that health insurance paid their bills, one worker paid from personal funds, two obtained care through a
community health clinic, and one said the bills were never paid. Four of these workers reported going without treatment at some point due to inability to pay.

The 2013 survey reported included information on the nationality (44% Asian) of the respondents and their education level:

28% of respondents completed some college level training before coming to the U.S.
32% of respondents completed some high school level education.
19% of respondents completed 8 years or less.
12% of respondents received no education.

Reforms to Legal immigration of low skilled workers

The Migration Policy Institute just published an Issue Brief on legal immigration of low skilled workers.

The authors say that severe limitations on legal immigration, temporary or permanent, of these workers has been in part the cause of illegal immigration.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO have agreed in principle on reforms to temporary low skilled labor immigration including freedom to move among employers and an opportunity to apply for permanent visas. The proposed W visa will allow for a broader range of employment.

H-2A visas for agricultural workers, which run for one year and are extendable to three years, are limited in number. H-2B visas, for non-farm work, are limited to 66,000 a year. Only 5,000 EB-3 permanent visas are available.

The debate over expanding and revising legal immigration for low skilled workers is paralyzed by these following issues:

• Wage levels and employment conditions. How to determine “prevailing wages.” The MPI says there is no obvious way to reconcile or come to an consensus about methodology. Also, there is differences in positions about assuming transportation and housing costs.
• Level of effort employers must show to recruit U.S.workers
• Whether U.S. workers to work alongside temporary visa workers should be entitled to transportation and housing subsidies.
• Which federal agency should oversee these temporary workers: the Department of Labor or Homeland Security
• How to determine the appropriate number of visas. Caps, when reached, make it difficult for employers to plan. The MPI has for years recommended the creation of an independent body to set and periodically adjust the cap for visas, to overcome federal inertia.
• Freedom of temporary workers to seek employment other than with the original employer. This proposed policy is intended to deter labor standard violations by employers
• Incentives to employers who play by the rules.
• Legal remedies for temporary workers
• Better monitoring, by adding dedicated resources
• Regulating immigration intermediaries.

Issues in designing a new temporary W visa include the following:

• Creating a more nuanced range of employment, that might include some skilled labor such as in construction
• Providing a path to permanent residency. The design of this path is somewhat caught up in the issue of who will be admitted. The higher the skill level, the greater prospect policy makers believe the worker will successfully integrate with American society. Integration with American society is seen as a very desirable attribute of permanent residency.

Candidacy for permanent residency can include learning English, having a good work record, and evidence of skill development.