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H-1B, L1 visa norms to get tougher

April 24, 2009 17:03 IST

A legislation has been introduced in the US Senate on reforming the H-1B and L1 visa programmes, popular among Indians, under which the American firms looking for skilled foreign professionals are required to make a "good faith" attempt to recruit local workers first.

Given that the skilled professionals from India are the one who account for the maximum number of H-1B and L1 visas, Indian professionals followed by those from China are likely to be hit the most if the legislation introduced by Senators Chuck Grassley and Dick Durbin is passed by the Congress and then signed into law by the President.

The bill, introduced on Thursday, requires all employers who want to hire an H-1B guest worker to first make a good faith attempt to recruit a qualified American worker. Employers would be prohibited from using H-1B visa holders to displace qualified American workers.

"Our bill will put a stop to the outsourcing of American jobs and discrimination against American workers," Senator Durbin said in a statement. "The H-1B visa programme should complement the US workforce, not replace it," he argued.

The bill prohibits the practice of 'H-1B only' ads and prevents employers from hiring additional H-1B and L-1 guest workers if over 50 per cent of their employees are H-1B and L-1 visa holders, Grassley said in a statement. It gives power to the Department of Labour to investigate, audit and penalize abuse of H-1B and L1 visa employers.

However, Grassley argued the Bill does not eliminate the programme or change the numerical cap of visas available to petitioning employers.

"The H-1B programme was never meant to replace qualified American workers. It was meant to complement them because of a shortage of workers in specialised fields. In tough economic times like we're seeing, it's even more important that we do everything possible to see that Americans are given every consideration when applying for jobs," he said.

If there are not qualified Americans, companies can use the legal immigration programmes available, "but we must return the H-1B and L visa programmes back to their original intent," Grassley said.

"Congress created the H-1B visa programme so an employer could hire a foreign guest worker when a qualified American worker could not be found. However, the H-1B visa programme is plagued with fraud and abuse and is now a vehicle for outsourcing that deprives qualified American workers of their jobs," Durbin said.

He claimed that the H-1B visa programme is currently being used by some companies to outsource American jobs to foreign countries.

"Under current law, an outsourcing company can use American workers to train H-1B guest-workers, fire American workers and outsource the H-1B workers to a foreign country where they will do the same job for a much lower wage. In fact, Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath has referred to the H-1B as 'the outsourcing visa," he said.

It was Grassley and Durbin who were mainly instrumental in the Congressional legislation early this year which stopped hiring of foreign workers by US companies receiving the federal stimulus money. As a result of this, coupled with the general economic recession, the filing of H-1B visas has dropped quite significantly.

In the first three weeks after they started receiving applications, US authorities received about 44,000 H-1B visa petitions against the Congressional mandated quota of 65,000.

In previous years, they had been receiving H-1B petitions several times the number of Congressional mandated quota.

In October last year, they had released a Benefit Fraud and Compliance Assessment that highlighted rampant fraud in the H-1B programme. The report revealed more than a 20 per cent violation rate by those who use the H-1B visa programme.

"When Citizenship and Immigration Services report that there is more than a 20 per cent violation rate in the H-1B visa programme, it's pretty clear that many companies are abusing the programme and not using it as was intended. Fraud and abuse of the H-1B visa program will not be tolerated and our bill puts companies on notice," Grassley said.

"Our legislation to reform the programme will benefit American workers, while still ensuring that US companies get the highly specialised workers they need."

Grassley alleged that fraud and abuse had become all too prevalent in the H-1B programme and thus there was need to close loopholes and enact reform.

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