On January 4, 2017, United States Representative Darrell Issa reintroduced a very controversial H-1B visa reform bill that, if passed, will make significant changes to the existing program. The bill, commonly known as the Protect and Grow American Jobs Act, was initially introduced in July of 2016. It faced strong opposition and criticism in Congress. With President-elect Donald Trump’s plan to reshape immigration in the U.S., and his focus on the H-1B program specifically, the bill is expected to be a hot issue in the coming year.
The bill comes after a variety of companies including Disney, Southern California Edison and others allegedly used the H-1B visa program to hire foreign workers instead of attempting to fill positions with the existing workforce. According to Rep. Darrel Issa and co-sponsoring Rep. Scott Peters, both of California, the bill will help reduce the number of companies that are guilty of abusing the program by employing less expensive immigrant workers who do not have exceptional training or skills. Representative Zoe Lofgren, also of California, disagrees. According to Lofgren, the bill does nothing to prevent outsourcing and will simply encourage companies who abuse the visa program to concentrate on higher paying jobs.
Understanding the H-1B Visa Program
The H-1B visa program was initially designed to help American companies maintain a competitive workforce by employing highly trained foreign workers in positions that could not be filled by the existing workforce. Beneficial to both immigrants and the American economy, the program has brought innovation and expertise to science, engineering, math and technology industries.
Unfortunately, critics of the program say that many immigrant workers are severely underpaid which pushes down the wages of American workers in these fields. Under the new proposal, the minimum annual wage for H-1B visa holders would rise from just $60,000 per year to $100,000 per year.
Another concern that is targeted by the H-1B reform bill is importing workers who are not truly qualified for the positions they are brought to fill. With some foreign workers obtaining low-quality certificates in an attempt to qualify for exemptions, many positions are not left open for immigrants who are truly highly-skilled. Issa claims that by eliminating the master’s degree exemption, the legislation would cut down on abuse of the H-1B visa program. According to supporters, the bill will help ensure that the most talented foreign workers throughout the world have the opportunity to work in the United States.