How a US Senator is trying to torpedo the deal to double H1B visas

US visas for high-skilled foreign workers could double under a new Senate immigration plan, but US Senator Charles Grassley has proposed new legislation to undercut some of the gains for foreign companies trying to acquire visas for sending workers to America.

Uttara Choudhury March 22, 2013 07:58:19 IST
How a US Senator is trying to torpedo the deal to double H1B visas

New York: US visas for high-skilled foreign workers could double under a new Senate immigration plan, but US Senator Charles Grassley has proposed new legislation to undercut some of the gains for foreign companies trying to acquire visas for sending workers to America.

Grassley’s legislation doesn’t single out Indian outsourcing firms, but it’s a well known fact that of the 10 companies that account for the largest number of H-1B and L-1 visas, five are from India.

The number of H-1B visas for highly skilled workers would approximately double from the current limit of 65,000 per year under a plan being hammered out by eight bipartisan senators working on a deal between the Congress and the White House to overhaul the US immigration system.

The high-skilled portion of their plan promises to not only increase H1B visas but to also grant a green card to anyone who completes a postgraduate degree in science, math, or engineering from a US university. It could be a windfall for Indian students who typically come to the US in large numbers to study in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

How a US Senator is trying to torpedo the deal to double H1B visas

The number of H-1B visas for highly skilled workers would approximately double from the current limit of 65,000 per year. Reuters

The senators' proposals will form the basis of a bill which will be introduced to the Senate by March, gain approval of the chamber by late spring or Summer and then spend the autumn in the House of Representatives before being sent for the president's signature by the end of the year.

Senator Grassley’s proposed H1-B and L-1 visa reform

However, Senator Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, who doesn’t belong to the bipartisan group of eight senators, is throwing a spanner in the works by introducing new proposals to toughen US work visa laws. Here is how Grassley’s proposal, dubbed H1-B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2013, could make it infinitely harder for Indian outsourcing companies to acquire visas for workers they send to America:

Grassley’s proposal seeks to deny work visas to foreign firms operating in the US who are deemed to be relying too heavily on foreign workers (meaning Indians) rather than hiring local Americans. The bill aims to deny new H1B, or skilled-worker visas, to firms with more than 50 employees and 50 percent or more of its employees already on work visas.

The proposal also wants foreign companies to hire Americans by listing vacancies on a US labor department website for 30 days before attempting to fly in workers from their home offices on work visas.

The H1-B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2013 also demands foreign companies pay wages in synch with America to tech workers it brings in on temporary work visas.

Grassley’s proposal also seeks to double penalties on administrative violations to $2,000. For deliberate attempt to flout the rules the law suggests a fine of $10,000, up from $5,000. Such companies may be barred in future from availing of H1-B and L-1 visas, draft legislation proposes.

The note introducing the bill on Senator Grassley’s website says the bill is likely to provide “a good basis” for H1-B visa reform in the comprehensive immigration bill being put together by the bipartisan group of senators.

“The program was never meant to replace qualified American workers, but it was instead intended as a means to fill gaps in highly specialized areas of employment,” Grassley said.

A similar proposal was introduced by Senator Grassley and Senator Dick Durbin more than four years ago. However, the bill was defeated in the US Senate.

Instead, in August 2010, the Senate passed a bill that hiked fees for the H1-B and L-1 visa categories used by Indian tech workers. Indians were incensed by Senator Charles Schumer’s characterization, during debate over the bill, of Indian businesses as “chop shops.” The term refers to a shady business where stolen cars are brought to be stripped and sold as parts.

“It was mean and disparaging of Senator Schumer to insult Indian companies,” said an Indian techie, whose firm’s policy doesn’t allow use of his name.

“We rely on the H1-B program to send personnel to the US to work on-site at major customers. It is part of our low-cost model in which we use engineers in India to do the actual software programming to implement projects. But we are not stealing from anyone. We help US companies save costs.”

US industry wants visa overhaul

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who founded financial business service Bloomberg, recently slammed quotas limiting the number of H-1B work visas, as “arbitrary,” and “crazy.” He said the cumbersome process to secure visas for top foreign graduates and experts in the US contributed to "critical shortfalls" in the software industry as well as electronics, pharmaceuticals and aerospace.

The US caps H1-B skilled worker visas at 65,000 a year and often hits the maximum within months. An additional 20,000 visas are earmarked for immigrants who earn advanced academic degrees in the US.

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