Two lawmakers have introduced a legislation in the House of Representatives seeking to prevent US companies from outsourcing American jobs and using H-1B visas to hire highly-skilled foreign workers.
The bill — moved jointly on Wednesday by a Republican and a Democratic member of the House — proposes to raise the annual salary for an H-1B hire from $60,000 currently to $100,000 in order to prevent firms from employing cheaper labour from abroad.
It also proposes getting rid of the masters degree exemption to ensure highly-skilled foreign workers are indeed highly skilled, and not, the lawmakers said in a statement, those who “obtained low-quality certificates to meet the requirements”.
The bill will be tracked closely by US companies, among them subsidiaries of Indian IT giants such as TCS, Infosys and Wipro, which use H-1B visas to hire foreign workers, many of them from India, due to, they contend, a shortage of trained American hands.
Critics of the H-1B programme — some of whom are in senior positions in the incoming Trump administration — have argued it is being used by US companies to bring cheaper labour from abroad to maximise profits.
President-elect Donald Trump has expressed unhappiness with the programme, saying that though it serves a purpose, as he has used it himself in his businesses, he wants to make sure the visas don’t lead to job cuts for Americans.
Darell Issa, a Republican representative from California who moved the legislation with Scott Peters, a Democrat from the same state, made a similar case — that the US needs the best talents from around the world, but not at the expense of Americans.
Issa said in a statement that the US needs to “ensure we can retain the world’s best and brightest talent”. But he added, the programme should not be “abused to allow companies to outsource and hire cheap foreign labour from abroad to replace American workers”.
“The legislation we’re introducing today does both,” he said.
A statement from his office mentioned Disney and SoCal Edison, a power company, as the kind of alleged abuse the bill intends to prevent. The jobs they outsourced to contractors went to H-1B visa holders mainly from India.
The layoffs attracted national attention coming in the middle of a bitter presidential elections in 2016, but a lawsuit by displaced Disney employees alleging visa laws were violated was rejected by a Florida court.
The US issues 85,000 H-1B visas every year — 65,000 to foreigners hired abroad, from their home countries mostly, and 20,000 to foreigners already in the US enrolled in schools, colleges and universities.
Opponents of the programme have argued for cutting the annual intake drastically and making H-1B hirings prohibitively expensive for US companies by increasing the salary, as the new bill proposes, and the fees.