Visa fee hike aimed at curbing misuse of H1B visas: US Senator
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Last Updated: Saturday, August 14, 2010, 00:13
Washington: Defending the US decision to approve a steep hike in the fees for certain categories of H- 1B and L1 visas, senior New York Senator Charles Schumer said the move was aimed at companies who hire foreign workers in a manner contrary to the original intent of the visa programme.

"Instead of raising the deficit -- which we do not do in this bill -- or diverting vital stimulus funds, the Senate ultimately agreed to pay for the border package by increasing visa fees on companies who hire foreign workers in a manner contrary to the original intent of the H-1B visa programme," Schumer said in the US Senate on Thursday.

Under the Emergency Border Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2010 -- popularly called the Border Security Bill -- the fee for certain categories of H-1B and L1 visas would increase by at least USD 2,000 for the next five years, which would help foot nearly USD 550 million out of the proposed expenditure of USD 650 million on increasing security along the US-Mexico border.

These fee increases would apply only to companies with more than 50 employees and for whom the majority of their workforce are visa-holding foreign workers.

Indian and US companies have termed it discriminatory. However, Senator Schumer defended the decision of the Senate.

In 1990, the US Congress realised the world was changing rapidly and that technological innovations, such as the Internet, were creating a high demand in the United States for hi-tech workers to create new technologies and products.

Consequently, Congress created the H-1B visa programme to allow US employers to hire foreign tech workers in special circumstances when they could not find an American citizen who was qualified, he said.

"Many of the companies that use this programme today are using the programme in exactly the way Congress intended; that is, these companies, such as Microsoft, IBM and Intel, are hiring bright foreign students educated in our American universities to work in the United States for 6 or 7 years to invent new product lines and technologies so that Microsoft, IBM and Intel can sell more products to the American public and hire more American workers," he said.

"Then at the expiration of the H-1B visa period, these companies apply for these talented workers to earn green cards and stay with the company.

"When the H-1B visa programme is used in this manner, it is a good programme for everyone involved. It is good for the company, it is good for the worker and it is good for the American people who benefit from the products and jobs created by the innovation of the H-1B visa holder," Schumer said.

"Every day, companies such as Oracle, Cisco, Apple and others use the H-1B visa programme in the exact way I have described and their use of the programme has greatly benefited the country.

"But recently some companies have decided to exploit an unintended loophole in the H-1B visa programme to use the programme in a manner that many in Congress, including myself, do not believe is consistent with the programme's intent," he said.

"Rather than being a company that makes something or provides a service and simply needs to bring in a talented foreign worker to help innovate and create new technologies, these other companies are essentially creating multinational temp agencies that were never contemplated when the H-1B programme was created," the Senator argued.

"The business model of these newer companies is not to make any new products or technologies such as Microsoft or Apple does.

"Instead, their business model is to, first, bring foreign tech workers into the United States who are willing to accept less pay than their American counterparts; two, place these workers into other companies in exchange for a consulting fee; and three, transfer these workers from company to company in order to maximise profits from placement fees," the Senator charged.

"In other words, these companies are petitioning for foreign workers simply to then turn around and provide these same workers to other companies who need cheap labour for various short-term projects," he said.

"The business model used by these companies within the United States is creating three major negative side effects.

First, it is ruining the reputation of the H-1B programme, which is overwhelmingly used by good actors for beneficial purposes. Some of our colleagues have legislation to curtail H-1B because of these types of abuses," he said.

Schumer said it is lowering the wages for American tech workers already in the marketplace and is also discouraging many of US smartest students from entering the technology industry in the first place.

"Students can see that paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for advanced schooling is not worth the cost when the market is being flooded with foreign temporary workers willing to do tech work for far less pay because their foreign education was cheaper and they intend to move back home when their visa expires to a country where the cost of living is far less expensive," he said.

"This type of use of the H-1B visa programme will be addressed as part of comprehensive reform and it is likely going to be dramatically restricted -? certainly, if I have something to do about it.

"We will be reforming the legal immigration system to encourage the world's best and brightest to come to the United States to create new technologies and businesses that will employ countless American workers, but will discourage businesses from using our immigration laws as a means to obtain temporary and less expensive foreign labour to replace capable American workers," Schumer said.

Schumer said under the Bill, the extra duty only goes on companies that have more than 50 per cent foreign workers and 50 per cent H-1B workers.

"The only companies that are 50 per cent H-1B workers are those that are just doing... far, far from what we envisioned when H-1B was passed. I say to those companies: if you do not change your ways, you should not be doing what you are doing, and this duty is appropriate for that purpose," he said.


First Published: Saturday, August 14, 2010, 00:13

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