Reforming the H-1B program “is an issue we are closely and carefully looking at,” Donald Trump had said during the campaign. This sentiment is shared by Congress, as evidenced by the slew of legislation proposed across both sides of the aisle.
Senator Dick Durbin (D. Ill.) first introduced a bill in 2007 to cure what he sees as the central problem — outsourcers abusing the system to obtain a very large portion of the limited number of H-1B visas. A decade later, in early March, Durbin reiterated this concern in a letter to President Trump. Durbin urges Trump to act quickly by way of Executive Order before the annual H-1B lottery because without Presidential action “outsourcers [would once again] secure the right to import tens of thousands of low-wage foreign guest workers to replace American workers.”
Going on the assumption that requiring outsourcers to pay higher salaries will eliminate the visa abuse and protect American workers, Congress is considering:
- “Protect and Grow American Jobs Act” – Introduced by Representatives Darrell Issa (R-Cal.) and Scott Peters (D-Cal.), the bill would effectively push outsourcers to pay foreign workers at least $100,000 a year.
- “High Skilled Worker Integrity and Fairness Act of 2017” – Introduced by Senator Zoe Lofgren (D-Cal.), the bill would effectively raise the wage for outsourcers to $130,000 annually and allocate H-1B visas to the positions with the highest wages.
- “H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act” – Introduced by Senator Durbin, the bill would eliminate the random lottery and replace it with an allocation system that gives priority to those with the highest salaries and with advanced U.S. STEM degrees. It has bi-partisan support (Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). Its companion bill in the House, introduced by Representatives Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-N.J.), Dave Brat (R-Va.), Ro Khanna (D-Cal.), and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), also bi-partisan support
- “Keeping American Jobs Act” – Introduced by Representatives Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the bill would bar employers from sending jobs abroad after using American workers to train their replacements.
Outsourcing firms may have the most to lose if any of this legislation passes. The most recently available figures show that 13 outsourcing firms received one-third of all available H-1B visas. Outsourcing firms’ -20-year-old business models are being reconsidered to incorporate hiring more American workers, accelerating automation, and moving American jobs off-shore.
At the executive level, a draft Executive Order that would impose H-1B reforms was leaked in January, but it has yet to be signed. Significantly, on the first day of the annual H-1B lottery, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that it will prioritize the detection of H-1B fraud and abuse through targeted site visits, with an emphasis on H-1B employers (i) whose information cannot be commercially verified, (ii) who are H-1B dependent, or (iii) who send employees to third-party worksites.