A bill backing key changes in the H1-B programme that allows skilled workers from countries like India to fill high-tech jobs in the US has been re-introduced (January 4, 2017) in the US Congress by two lawmakers- by Republican Darrell Issa and Scott Peters both from California.- who claim that that it will help crack down on the work visa abuse. The ‘Protect and Grow American Jobs Act’ makes important changes to the eligibility requirements for H1-B Visa exemptions. The bill, among other things, increase the minimum salary of H-1B visa to $100,000 per annum and eliminate the Masters Degree exemption. According to the law makers, the legislation will help check abuse and ensure that these jobs remain available for the best and brightest talent from around the world. The bill has been introduced after a number of companies — Disney, SoCal Edison and others — came under fire for abusing the H1B Visa programme to replace American workers with foreign workers. Darrell Issa said,
“In order for America to lead again, we need to ensure we can retain the world s best and brightest talent. At the same time, we also need to make sure programs are not abused to allow companies to outsource and hire cheap foreign labor from abroad to replace American workers.” Darrell Issa added that the legislation that has been introduced would ensure that the US companies would use valuable high-skilled immigration spots when the positions cannot be filled by the existing workforce. By raising the salary to a level more in-line with the average American salary for these positions, it would help cut down on abuse by removing the profit incentive and ensuring these positions remain available for companies who truly need them.
Peters also said that curbing abuse of the H1-B system would protect American jobs and help ensure that visas are available for innovators who need them to maintain a competitive workforce. The Congressman said, “This bipartisan bill makes one of the much-needed updates to our high-skilled visa system to level the playing field and help prevent companies from taking advantage of the system to offshore jobs.”
The two lawmakers claimed that the legislation would cut down on abuse by eliminating the masters degree exemption, which has become abused as foreign workers seeking H1B Visas have increasingly sought and obtained low-quality certificates to meet the requirements for an exemption just to qualify for H1B, instead of keeping the positions open for truly high- skilled positions that companies cannot fill domestically.
The bill had faced opposition last year in Congress.
President- elect Donald Trump had promised in his election campaign to reshape immigration and push for companies to invest and hire more in the US. Trump has listed immigration reform among five executive actions he plans to take on his first day in office. They include asking the Department of Labor to investigate “all abuses of the visa programmes that undercut the American worker.”
The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa
The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa in the United States under the Immigration and Nationality Act, section 101(a)(15)(H). It allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations. If a foreign worker in H-1B status quits or is dismissed from the sponsoring employer, the worker must either apply for and be granted a change of status to another non-immigrant status, find another employer (subject to application for adjustment of status and/or change of visa), or leave the U.S.
The regulations define a “specialty occupation” as requiring theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge in a field of human endeavor including but not limited to biotechnology, chemistry, architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, medicine and health, education, law, accounting, business specialties, theology, and the arts, and requiring the attainment of a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent as a minimum (with the exception of fashion models, who must be “of distinguished merit and ability”). Likewise, the foreign worker must possess at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent and state licensure, if required to practice in that field. H-1B work-authorization is strictly limited to employment by the sponsoring employer.
Indians on HI B Visa
New data reveals that 86% of the total H1B visas issued in 2014 for technology firms was used to hire IT professionals from India. New data reveals that 86% of the total H1B visas issued in 2014 for technology firms was used to hire IT professionals from India. The data accessed by Computerworld through Right of Information Act, reveals that a lion share of visas issued for computer jobs are claimed by Indians. On the other hand, China, which accounts for the third largest immigrant group in the US, behind Mexico and India, has used only 5% of H-1B visas for computer professionals.
Anticipating a more protectionist U.S. technology visa programme under a Donald Trump administration, India’s $150 billion IT services sector will speed up acquisitions in the United States and recruit more heavily from college campuses there. Indian companies including Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) , Infosys and Wipro have long used H1-B skilled worker visas to fly computer engineers to the US, their largest overseas market, temporarily to service clients. Staff from those three companies accounted for around 86,000 new H1-B workers in 2005-14. The US currently issues close to that number of H1-B visas each year. President-elect Trump’s campaign rhetoric, and his pick for Attorney General of Senator Jeff Sessions, a long-time critic of the visa programme, have many expecting a tighter regime.
Donald Trump’s Utterances w.r.t HIB visa
In October last year, Trump said he was in favour of bringing skilled foreign workers into the US, as long as they come legally.
Then in March this year, he averred: “We need highly skilled people in this country and if we can’t do it, we get them in…And in Silicon Valley we absolutely have to have.” Later that same month, Trump even specifically mentioned Indians while saying smart foreign students educated in the US should be allowed to remain there.
“You know, they go to Harvard, they are first in their class and they’re from India they go back to India and they set up companies and they make a fortune and they employ lots of people and all of that.”
“Many people want to stay in this country and then want to do that. I think somebody that goes through years of college in this country we shouldn’t kick them out the day they graduate, which we do.”
At the same time, Trump has advocated increasing the prevailing wage paid to H1B workers to put pressure on US companies to hire domestic talent.
“More than half of H-1B visas are issued for the program’s lowest allowable wage level, and more than eighty percent for its bottom two.”
Shivendra Singh, Vice President and Head, Global Trade Development at Nasscom said, “The common thread is that the bills focus on ‘hire American first’ …we believe their bill would harm the U.S. economy by unfairly restricting foreign-based global service companies and, equally important, creating tremendous difficulties for thousands of American business customers who need expert IT services support.” While stating that Indian firms do fall under the 50-50 cap and that this bill would affect them, Mr. Singh said the bill does nothing to address the root cause of the problem i.e. shortage of STEM skills in America. According to December 2015 projections by the Department, employment of computer and information technology occupations will grow 12 percent from 2014 to 2024 (faster than the average for all other occupations). However, due to shortfalls in STEM college graduates entering the STEM workforce, there could be 2.4 million unfilled STEM jobs in the US by 2018 – with more than half of these vacancies in computer and IT-related skills. Citing media reports, he said that there would be one million unfilled jobs in the U.S. for computer programming alone by 2020.
Currently, there is a cap of 65,000 on H1-B visas, of this about 25,000-35,000 is given to Indian nationals. These are not just the Indian companies which seek visa, but also American companies and other global firms. With increasing visa fees and minimum pay requirements for immigrant workers, the financial business case for employing local U.S. nationals over Indian immigrant workers has progressively become more attractive, although Indian IT companies may need some more time to achieve the proposed 50 per cent mix.