CWS 3.0: March 27, 2013


Proposed Legislation Could Deny H-1B Visas

Contingent workforce buyers using H-1B visa workers could be in for a rude shock. Legislation proposed by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, could prohibit staffing firms from bringing in H-1B visa holders. It would add other restrictions as well.

Grassley announced the legislation last week in an effort to prevent fraud and abuse of the H-1B visa program.

In a summary of the bill on Grassley’s website, one of the proposed legislation’s provisions “prohibits companies from outsourcing visa holders to other companies. A waiver is provided for companies that can attest that they have not displaced a U.S. worker, and if it is not a ‘labor for hire’ arrangement.”

Mark Roberts, CEO of the TechServe Alliance, said the organization is already tackling the issue, and it appears the proposed legislation is similar to previous bills introduced by the senator.

“There is language there that is very troubling to the staffing industry,” Roberts said. “If it passes as is that would mean no staffing firm could use H-1Bs. That would be a devastating result particularly in the IT and engineering sectors.”

The TechServe Alliance has already expressed its opposition to the senator and his staff, Roberts said.

The bill appears to be a placeholder by the senator aimed at ultimately getting some aspects of it into final legislation on comprehensive immigration reform, Roberts said. However, what final immigration reform looks like is in an ongoing state of flux and it’s not known whether such a bill will come to fruition.

Grassley’s proposed legislation would also add a number of other provisions as well. They include requiring all companies to make a good-faith effort to hire Americans first, prohibiting job advertising to only H-1B holders, allowing for random audits and increasing fines among other things.

H-1B visas are designed to bring foreign professional workers such as information technology specialists and medical personnel into the U.S. However, the senator cites an October 2008 study by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service that found a violation rate of more than 20 percent in the H-1B program.

“Somewhere along the line, the H-1B program got side-tracked,” Grassley said. “The program was never meant to replace qualified American workers, but it was instead intended as a means to fill gaps in highly specialized areas of employment. When times are tough, like they are now, it’s especially important that Americans get every consideration before an employer looks to hire from abroad.”

The bill also has the support of the U.S. division of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, also known as the IEEE.

“This, along with increasing the number of green cards available to high-skill workers, would strengthen job retention and creation in the United States,” according to the IEEE.

The organization said that the U.S. issued 134,780 H-1B visas in fiscal year 2012 including exemptions to the annual cap of 65,000.

Grassley’s announcement comes as the federal government prepared to begin accepting H-1B visa petitions on April 1. The government warned the number of visa petitions may exceed the limited number of visas available. As a result, it may go to the lottery to mete out who gets a visa, leaving some without visas. For a story on this, click here.


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