Three Republican US lawmakers have introduced a legislation in Congress to bar American employers from hiring H-1B workers, who are mostly highly skilled Indian IT professionals, if they have recently, or plan to fire their local workers, seeking to put an end to the allure of cheap foreign labour. Introduced in the House of Representatives by Republican congressmen Mo Brooks, Matt Gaetz and Lance Gooden, the American Jobs First Act proposes to overhaul the H-1B visa programme by making necessary changes in the Immigration and Nationality Act.
The H-1B visa, most-sought after among Indian IT professionals, is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. Technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.
According to its text released on Wednesday, a foreign guest worker may not be admitted or provided status as an H-1B non-immigrant in an occupational classification unless the petitioner employer has filed with the Secretary of Labour an application stating the employer is offering an annual wage to the H-1B non-immigrant that is the greater of the annual wage paid to the US citizen or lawful permanent resident employee who did identical or similar work during the two years before the petitioner employer filed such application; or USD 110. The petitioner employer also needs to file with the Secretary of Labour an application stating the employer will not require an H-1B non-immigrant to pay a penalty for ceasing employment with the petitioner employer before the date agreed to by the H-1B non-immigrant and the petitioner employer.
The bill that has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, and in addition to the Committee on Education and Labour among other things suspends the F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) programme, which grants all foreign students extendable work permits and exacerbates job market competition among American graduates. It ends the diversity visa lottery programme, which the lawmakers alleged fails to serve US interests by issuing 50,000 green cards to foreigners from around the world regardless of their qualifications. Given that the Democrats have a majority in the House of Representatives, the bill has little chance to be passed.
"My American Jobs First Act will bring much needed reform and oversight to the H-1B visa programme to ensure that US workers are no longer disadvantaged in their own country. To end the allure of cheap foreign labour, the bill will require employers to pay any H-1B workers a minimum amount of USD 110,000," Congressman Brooks said. "And to stop American worker replacement, my bill will require companies seeking H-1B labour to not have fired any American workers for at least two years without just cause and commit to not firing any workers without just cause for two years after, Brooks said.
Commonsense H-1B reform measures like these, alongside ending the unfair OPT and diversity visa lottery programmes, all serve to promote American interests when it comes to immigration, he added. Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of US Senators on Wednesday urged the Biden administration to implement the H-1B visa programme reforms issued by the previous Trump administration in January, under which the visas were to be issued on the criteria of wages and not by a computerised draw of lots.
In a notification on January 8, the Trump administration had sought to issue H-1B visas to employers offering the highest wages before being allocated to other petitioners. Five weeks later, the Biden administration announced a delay in the effective date of the H-1B selection rule from March 9 to December 31, 2021. The Department of Homeland Security also announced going back to the lottery system.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, Chair of Senate Judiciary Committee and Senator Chuck Grassley, Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee said in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that companies will continue to game the lottery system and secure thousands of new H-1B visas for 2022 since the H-1B filing season begins in a few weeks. Implementing a reasonable allocation of visas as the H-1B selection rule would do is a meaningful step toward reform to protect American workers. We urge you to expeditiously implement the rule, the senators said.
According to a May 4, 2020 analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, a majority of H-1B employers use the visa programme to pay migrant workers below-market wages, and half of the top 30 H-1B employers use an outsourcing business model, they said. Employers offering high wages to international graduates of American universities often lose out in the H-1B lottery, while thousands of new H-1B visas are issued each year to outsourcing companies offering below-market wages and seeking to offshore American jobs, they wrote.
In January, then US president Donald Trump had extended the ban on issuing of new H-1B visas till March 31, arguing that the country is having a very high unemployment rate and the US cannot afford to have more foreign workers. Indian IT professionals are the worst sufferers of the current immigration system which imposes a seven per cent per country quota on allotment of the coveted Green Card or permanent legal residency.