Who’s rooting for the H1B visa's new normal?
Muted cheering has begun on the western side of the Atlantic; the H1B community already working in the US is beginning to breathe easy now that the dust is settling down on the contours of the backlash - the idea that what they'll get is more than what will be taken away is beginning to sink in.
The United States is the largest market for Indian software service companies. US President Donald Trump has ordered a review of the H1B visa program for bringing high-skilled foreign workers into the country, putting technology firms and the outsourcing companies that serve them on notice.
The H1B pack is now split into two camps, the ones who’ve already crossed over and those on the other side of the drawbridge.
“Whatever is going on will sort out the supply and demand equation. This is going to make the entry barriers stiffer so there won’t be a flood of workers who’re younger than us and who can put in crazy hours at work and pressure us into doing the same,” says Sai Kumar, an Atlanta based H1B worker.
Whenever the souped up H1B takes shape, it is likely going to get tougher to get a foot in the door while those already in the US on an H1B may end up with higher base salaries.
“If he goes on like this, Donald Trump will do a second term,” says another H1B worker about the mood within his team at Accenture.
Asked why, he says the effects of the H1B reform moves are already being seen at work everyday.
“When I need workers, I now have to go through not one but several layers of US worker possibilities. First I look for a full time hire, then a contractor and then the H1B option is considered at the very end of the line. Even a few months ago, it wasn’t this way. People in office are being extra careful,” he says.
Meanwhile, the wheels within wheels of the anti-H1B effort continue to hum unceasingly. All of this gives the happy H1B campers reason to welcome every incremental twist.
Latest is that the US Labor Department — the overall monitoring authority for H1B visas — is seeking a legislative change to take stronger action against firms using H1B to replace American employees with foreign workers.
In a detailed letter, the highest ranking official in DoL has explained how complicated the H1B salary scale is and why it becomes so difficult to investigate fraud and abuse.
This is in reponse to a strong letter sent to the Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly signed by three members of congress and four Senators including Chuck Grassley, Senator from Iowa.
In the letter, operative portions of which are reproduced below, Grassley asks important questions of the DoL and tells why “unconscionable abuses” of the program must be urgently investigated:
“As you know, we have introduced bipartisan legislation that would fix many of the loopholes in current law that allow for these unconscionable abuses of the program. Until this legislation becomes law, you have a duty to use your authority to investigate H-1B abuses and fix them. The need for action is urgent because in early April, the government will conduct its annual lottery to decide which employers will receive Fiscal Year 2018 H-1B visas. If nothing is done, outsourcing companies will secure the right to import tens of thousands of additional low- wage foreign guest workers to replace American workers. Given the extent of the fraud and abuse of the H-1B visa program and the harm it poses to American workers, we request that you respond to the following questions and provide answers no later than April 14.
1. Has an investigation into the companies highlighted in 60 Minutes’ “You’re Fired,” and their abuse of the H-1B visa program been initiated? If not, why not?
2. Has a review of your policies and procedures under the H-1B program that allows for this kind of abuse been initiated? If so, have you determined loopholes and ambiguities that can be fixed by regulation or other executive action? If not, why not?
3. What steps are you taking, in conjunction with the President and the White House, to initiate necessary administrative action to fix the worst abuses in the H-1B visa program?
4. What tools do you need from Congress to better ensure that the H-1B program is used as it was meant to be used, to ensure that American companies have access to foreign workers, when, and only when, there are insufficient American workers to fill those jobs?"
Grassley is the same person who introduced a bill titled H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2017, in Congress earlier this year.
In one stroke, this Bill seeks to shut many doors on the H1B system at once.
Below is a summary:
“This bill amends the the Immigration and Nationality Act to revise employer and government requirements regarding visas for nonimmigrant aliens rated H-1B (specialty occupation) and L-1 (intracompany transfer to the United States from abroad).
H-1B employer application requirements are revised.
The bill establishes an H-1B visa allocation system, with first priority reserved for aliens who have earned an advanced degree in a field of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) from a U.S. institution of higher education.
The bill requires completion of a U.S. degree (or an equivalent foreign degree) as a qualification for "specialty occupation" eligibility, eliminating experience in a specialty as an equivalent to the completion of such a degree.
The bill prescribes an H-1B labor condition application fee.
The Department of Labor may issue subpoenas and seek appropriate injunctive relief and specific performance of contractual obligations to ensure H-1B employer compliance.
The period of authorized admission for an H-1B nonimmigrant is reduced from six to three years, with a three-year extension available for aliens with extraordinary ability or with advanced degrees or professors.
The bill denies an H-1B visa to any alien normally classifiable as an H-1 nonimmigrant who seeks U.S. admission to provide services in a specialty occupation.
Labor may investigate applications for fraud and conduct H-1B compliance audits.
Labor shall conduct annual audits of companies with more than 100 employees who work in the United States if more than 15% of those employees are H-1B nonimmigrants.
The bill increases certain employer penalties, including the penalty for displacing a U.S. worker.
An employer that violates any H-1B requirement shall be liable to the harmed employee for lost wages and benefits.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services shall give Labor any information in materials submitted by H-1B employers as part of the petition adjudication process that indicates employer noncompliance with H-1B visa program requirements.
Labor may hire 200 additional employees to administer H-1B programs.
The bill prohibits an employer, unless it receives a waiver from Labor, from hiring for more than one year an L-1 nonimmigrant who will: (1) serve in a capacity involving specialized knowledge, and (2) be stationed primarily at the worksite of an employer other than the petitioning employer.
No employer may replace a U.S. worker with an L-1 worker.
The bill prescribes L-1 requirements regarding: (1) employer petitions for employment at a new office, (2) wage rates and working conditions, and (3) employer penalties.
Labor may initiate an L-1 employer investigation.
Authority to administer L-1 visa blanket petitions is transferred from the Department of Justice to the Department of Homeland Security."
Meanwhile, the H1B minders at the Department of Labor continue to leaf through thousands of H1B applications and related documents just the way they used to, not much has changed at the workplace except for lots of vacancies and more politics chatter around the water cooler. "The political masters have not yet actively stepped in. All the due process is still bureaucratic but yes, the denials have spiked," says a DoL staffer on the H1B case.
Updated Date: May 10, 2017 02:42 AM