The H-1B Visa Debate
Some say Congress should raise current limits on foreign workers in the United States; others disagree. But proposed changes to the law may satisfy both sides.
Cynthia Scanlon (Oct/Nov 06)
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and work conditions seem to be at the center of much of the debate over
hiring H-1B workers. Those against raising the cap insist that H-1B
visa holders are forced to take lower wages than their American
counterparts. Those lobbying for a cap increase dispute that, pointing
out that employers hiring H-1Bs are required by law to pay a prevailing
wage. "But a prevailing wage is not the same as a market wage," says
Hira argues. "Companies can still be within the prevailing wage
requirements, while paying below market wages."
Currently, H-1B visa holders who feel they are being treated
unfairly can file a claim with the Department of Labor, or a third
party can write a letter to the Secretary of Labor outlining the
suspected abuse. The secretary then has the discretion to order an
investigation. IEEE-USA wants Congress to enact an auditing system for
the H-1B holders, which they feel would strengthen the program's
integrity and ensure the nonexploitation of foreign workers.
is currently looking into the H-1B visa situation. The House of
Representatives and Senate have both introduced H-1B legislation: S.
2691/H.R. 5744, better known as the SKIL Bill, which may provide some
necessary reforms that many are looking for. This wide-ranging
immigration reform bill, now being debated by the Senate Judiciary
Committee, would increase the H-1B visa cap from 65,000 to 115,000 per
year and eliminate any cap for advanced degree holders. Additionally,
the bill also proposes to speed up the green card process for foreign
advanced degree holders and increase the number of green cards
available, which is now capped at 140,000 per year.
designed as a temporary work visa, the H-1B has now become a stepping
stone to a permanent visa, but leaves people stuck in H-1B status for
years waiting for their green cards. They can't wait forever. After an
H-1B expires, the foreign worker is required to leave the United States
for one year before another H-1B petition can be approved by the U.S.
Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
legislation may help alleviate many H-1B concerns on both sides. "If
the SKIL Bill passes, I think the business immigration community feels
they would have many problems resolved," says Malpert. Shotwell agrees.
"The SKIL Bill is a great bill," she says. "It provides a lot of the
relief we need by providing more H-1B visas and providing more green
cards. It streamlines processes and takes people more directly from
student to green card status, skipping the H-1B altogether." Even Hira
is pleased that the SKIL Bill addresses the current lack of green
cards: "If companies were able to give green cards instead of going
through the H-1B process, those workers could move from company to
company much more easily; that would force companies to pay market
the end, what everyone wants is an equitable immigration policy that
will treat all workers fairly, while allowing companies using H-1B
workers to do business competitively. However, if we are not able to
achieve this equilibrium, many warn that the future repercussions for
the United States could be great.
"If Congress doesn't get this
fixed this year, we will run out of visas in the first month or two [of
the new fiscal year]," says Shotwell. "If that happens, I think you'll
see [American] companies making the decision that they can't depend on
getting workers here, and they will look at alternatives to get their
work done." She adds that the United States has been a great place to
innovate and do research, but cautions that other countries are
catching up quickly by putting effort into developing niche industries
and attracting skilled workers of their own. She uses Ireland,
Scotland, China, and India as examples.
Shotwell believes the
first step in turning this trend around is to change our immigration
policies to be more welcoming of foreign workers while helping our own
companies to remain competitive, and that legislation will be the
driving force in creating a sustainable solution. "As our economy has
grown and changed, our laws haven't kept up," she says. "We're
operating under a system that was established in 1965, and the world is
now vastly different."