Immigration bill increases visas for skilled workers, tightens rules

WASHINGTON Tue Apr 16, 2013 12:11am EDT

A man holds a U.S. flag while receiving his proof of U.S. citizenship during a ceremony in San Francisco, California January 30, 2013. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

A man holds a U.S. flag while receiving his proof of U.S. citizenship during a ceremony in San Francisco, California January 30, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Robert Galbraith

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate immigration bill outlined Tuesday attempts to meet long-sought demands from America's technology sector for more high-skilled workers from abroad to fill the gap created by a shortage of American candidates.

Under the proposed bipartisan legislation outlined Tuesday, the official quota of "H1-B" visas for high-skilled, foreign workers would increase by 69 percent to 110,000.

But businesses would need to pay these employees high salaries and ensure qualified American applicants are not passed over.

The visa quota could go as high as 180,000 in future years from the current 65,000 limit, based on certain conditions, according to an outline of the bill.

In addition, the number of visas for foreigners who hold advanced degrees from U.S. universities would increase to 25,000 from the current 20,000.

Businesses, particularly tech companies, have lobbied for more H-1B visas for years. Companies apply for these visas annually, and demand routinely outstrips supply.

The H-1B is a nonimmigrant visa in the United States that allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations. The duration of stay is three years, extendable to six years.

Earlier this month, the United States awarded 85,000 H-1B visas while receiving about 124,000 applications.

Critics of the H-1B visas say the program allows companies to pay foreign workers lower salaries than they pay to Americans with comparable skills.

To address this concern, the Senate's draft legislation calls for employers "to pay significantly higher wages for H-1B workers than under current law," the outline said.

Businesses would also need to advertise to American workers first any job openings that could be obtained by foreign applicants.

Companies that are found to be abusing the visa program would be hit with penalties.

More broadly, the Senate's proposal would phase in requirements that businesses of all sizes verify an employee's work status.

Separately, the proposed legislation would create a new visa for foreign entrepreneurs looking to emigrate to the United States to start their own companies.

Another part of the proposed legislation creates a new system for admitting temporary workers for unskilled jobs - janitors, hotel and restaurant workers and laborers - for companies that can show they need them.

Businesses will need to file an estimate of the number of these employees they want to hire, the dates of employment and a description of the type of work.

Businesses can be denied permission to hire these workers if they have previously violated certain U.S. labor rules.

Yet another section of the legislation would cover the flow of agricultural workers, creating a new "guest worker" visa program to ensure an adequate agriculture workforce.

A portable "W" category of visa would replaced the current H-2A visa program for agricultural employment.

(Reporting by Patrick Temple-West. Editing by Fred Barbash and Lisa Shumaker)

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Comments (4)
PenRumi wrote:
Skill-based immigration should be considered separately; highly skilled workers are necessary for the American technology sector.

However, any talk of immigration reform i.e. debate in Congress must be preceded by strict border controls. If borders are not secured, any reforms will be rendered useless in the long run. Cutoff dates are a joke, which was evident with the 1986 immigration reform.

Apr 16, 2013 5:40am EDT  --  Report as abuse
AdamSmith wrote:
It’s a known fact that the H1B visa program has destroyed the American middle class.

It’s really a simple case of supply and demand.

Consider an analogy. Consider, for example, what would happen if H1B were applied to plumbers instead of engineers.

Pick any city, let’s say, Denver, Colorado. Now, bring in 100 busloads of freshly graduated Indian or Chinese plumbers (4,000 new plumbers), who want to enter into the plumbing business in Denver, and make a living.

The result? Wage rates for plumbers will become depressed. The existing 960 plumbers in Denver, once busy every day, and making a good living, will now have much less work, or no work at all.

Who can compete with improverished hordes of plumbers from India who will work for any price? India has 1.17 BILLION people, and many of them are coming here, flooding our labor markets.

The H1B visa law was created, written and lobbied for by large American corporations as a means for decreasing their engineering labor costs. Indeed their corporate profits have zoomed up, up, up — while the wage rates paid to their American engineers have gone down, down, down.

This is what the H1B visa has done to the American engineering profession. H1B has already brought in over one million foreign engineers to America, thus driving down American wage rates, and discouraging American kids from majoring in engineering.

Apr 16, 2013 8:52am EDT  --  Report as abuse
spca wrote:
well, how do all you manufacturing and factory workers who have spent your adult life working and are out of work for the past two years feel about this ?

Apr 16, 2013 12:01pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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