Visa Crunch

US Senate Files Legislation To Reform H1-B, L1-B Visas, Priority May Be Given To US-Educated, High-Wage Professionals

A bipartisan bill has been introduced in the Senate to amend the US Immigration and Nationality Act and overhaul the H-1B and L-1 visa programs in order to ‘reduce fraud and abuse, provide protection to American workers and visa holders, and require more transparency in the recruitment of foreign workers.’

Among other things, the ‘H1-B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2022’ intends to change the current lottery system for selecting H-1B cap candidates and, for the first time, prioritize the annual issuance of H-1B visas based on specified factors. The proposed system will ensure that the best and brightest STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) advanced degree students educated in the United States have given priority for an H-1B visa, as well as other US advanced degree holders, those earning a high wage, and those with valuable skills.

This bill was introduced by two powerful senators, Senator Dick Durbin and Senator Chuck Grassley, and has received co-sponsorship from a few additional senators, including Bernie Sanders, who ran for President in 2016. It may be noticed that the Department of Homeland Security formally withdrew an ‘H-1B Selection Final Rule’ in December that intended to link issuance of H-1B cap visas to the highest income level in the relevant employment category and geographical area. This withdrawal was mandated by a court order.

Senators Durbin and Grassley proposed the reform proposal for the first time in 2017. According to an official statement made by the Senators, “this thorough revamping of the H-1B and L-1 visa systems would protect American workers while cracking down on foreign outsourcing businesses that use these visa programs to deprive qualified Americans of high-skilled jobs.”

Every year, a large number of H-1B visas are granted to Indian nationals, particularly those from the technology sector. For example, during fiscal 2020, Indian citizens received 73,717 new H-1B visas, accounting for 60% of all new H-1B visas (including cap-exempt visas).

The measure aims to penalize outsourcing corporations that bring in large numbers of H-1B and L-1 workers for temporary training purposes simply to transfer them back to their native countries to do the same job. The measure specifically attempts to restrict enterprises with more than 50 employees, at least half of whom are H-1B or L-1 holders, from employing more H-1B workers. The bill strengthens the US Department of Labor’s jurisdiction to evaluate, investigate, and audit employer compliance with program rules, as well as to penalize fraudulent or abusive behaviour.

It necessitates the collection of significant statistical data regarding the H-1B and L-1 programs, such as wage information, worker education level, place of employment, and gender.  Furthermore, it includes several L-1 visa program reforms, such as the establishment of a wage floor for L-1 workers, granting the DHS authority to investigate, audit, and enforce compliance with L-1 program requirements, ensuring that intra-company transfers occur between legitimate branches of a company and do not involve ‘shell’ facilities, and changing the definition of ‘specialized knowledge’ to ensure that L-1 visas are reserved only for truly key personnel.

“Reforming the H-1B and L-1 visa programs is a critical component to fixing America’s broken immigration system,” Durbin said. “For years, outsourcing companies have used legal loopholes to displace qualified American workers, exploit foreign workers, and facilitate the outsourcing of American jobs. Our legislation would fix these broken programs, protect workers, and put an end to these abuses.”

We need programs dedicated to putting American workers first. When skilled foreign workers are needed to meet the demands of our labour market, we must also ensure that visa applicants who honed their skills at American colleges and universities are a priority over the importation of more foreign workers. Our bill takes steps to ensure that the programs work for Americans and skilled foreign workers alike,” Grassley said.

The H-1B and L-1 visa programs were established by Congress to supplement, not replace, America’s high-skilled workforce. Unfortunately, some businesses are attempting to take advantage of the programs by laying off American workers in favour of cheaper labour.

Immigration reforms, including modernization of the H-1B program to reduce abuse and the implementation of new prevailing pay legislation, are part of the Biden administration’s action plan.

Legal Disclaimer: This article is provided for information purposes only.

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