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New H-1B bill will 'help destroy' U.S. tech workforce

Patrick Thibodeau | Jan. 15, 2015
New legislation being pushed by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to hike the H-1B visa cap is drawing criticism and warnings that it will lead to an increase in offshoring of tech jobs.

New legislation being pushed by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to hike the H-1B visa cap is drawing criticism and warnings that it will lead to an increase in offshoring of tech jobs.

IEEE-USA said the legislation, introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Tuesday, will "help destroy" the U.S. tech workforce with guest workers.

Other critics, including Ron Hira, a professor of public policy at Howard University and a leading researcher on the issue, said the bill gives the tech industry "a huge increase in the supply of lower-cost foreign guest workers so they can undercut and replace American workers."

Hira said this bill "will result in an exponential rise of American jobs being shipped overseas."

Technically, the bill is a reintroduction of the earlier "I-Square" bill, but it includes enough revisions to be considered new. It increases the H-1B visa cap to 195,000 (instead of an earlier 300,000 cap), and eliminates the cap on people who earn an advanced degree in a STEM (science, technology, education and math) field.

Hatch, who is the No. 2 ranking senator in the GOP-controlled chamber, was joined by co-sponsors Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) in backing the legislation.

The bill also makes it easier for U.S. advanced degree graduates to get a green card. One problem may be whether this bill will restrict, in any way, visa mills from churning out STEM master's degree holders for either green cards or H-1B visas.

Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), said the bill doesn't include reforms such as higher prevailing wages and requirements to recruit U.S. workers. Nor does the bill limit the use of the H-1B visa by offshore outsourcing firms, he said.

"This bill is basically a wish list for the tech industry," said Costa.

The number of H-1B visas today is capped at 65,000, with an additional 20,000 allowed for advanced degree holders in STEM fields. The number of H-1B visas issued is actually higher, when groups exempt from the cap such as non-profits and research institutions, are added.

EPI estimates that between 2007 and 2012 nearly 776,000 H-1B visas were issued — an average of almost 130,000 per year.

Hatch has made an H-1B increase a priority issue for the new Senate. Previous efforts to pass stand-alone bills to hike the cap were blocked by supporters of comprehensive immigration reform, who didn't want to dilute support for a broader bill. But Republican leaders in both chambers are much more open to the idea of a stand-alone high-skill immigration bill.

The bill's backers include senators from states that have seen workers displaced by offshore outsourcing firms. In Connecticut, Blumenthal's state, IT workers at Northeast Utilities were laid off last year after the company brought in H-1B visa workers by two India-based offshore firms. In Minnesota, represented by Klobuchar, Cargill, a food and agricultural firm, last year announced cuts in the IT department in an offshoring move.

 

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