Visa fee hike aimed at curbing misuse of H1B visas: US Senator

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.

PTI



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

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