John Miano, author of "The Bottom of the Pay Scale, Wages for H-1B Computer Programmers" report from CIS, an immigration think tank, said the program is generally discussed at a very superficial level
the focus is on the need for "the world's best and brightest to come to the United States," he said. But according to Miano and Shah, a closer look at who is actually coming in on this program suggests that it's not the world's best and brightest.
The report lists consultancies, known as body shops, that hire thousands of H-1B workers to perform IT or back-office tasks for U.S. companies on a contract basis, said IEEE-USA's Hira. Though paid by the body shop, the visa holders work on a daily basis in the contracting company's facilities. Furthermore, to depress the prevailing wage even further, the body shops do not employ American workers at all. These consultancies protest lowering the cap on the H-1B law as a hindrance to trade, said Hira.
On Miano's personal Web site, www.colosseumbuilders.com, he lists the lowest-paying employers of H-1B computer workers with more than 100 visa workers in fiscal year 2004. More often than not, he said, these H-1B workers have no actual assignment when they enter the United States as a body shop employee.
Aiming at body shops and other abusers of the system, Pascrell's bill builds in support for program enforcement. "I want to give the Department of Labor some teeth and power to go after these companies that are making a sham of the law," he said.
IEEE-USA's Hira: 'Bill lays out some sensible, practical reforms.'
The right of private action detailed in the bill is designed to strengthen safeguards for workers affected by the H-1B program. "No matter how much you reform the visa, and no matter how much government monitoring may be set up, you still have to give power to the people," Shah said. "You have to give both American citizens as well as these H-1B petitioners the ability to stand up for themselves in a civil court. That ability to counter any mistreatment will be the greatest deterrent of ongoing abuse by a company." When it is no longer profitable, she said, the incentives for abusing the visa program will be removed. "The only way you can do that is by way of civil action," said Shah. "It wasn't the equal-rights amendment that made women equal in the workplace. It was when sexual-harassment lawsuits started getting judgments in the millions of dollars that you started to see sensitivity training. Until that point, 'boys will be boys' was the prevailing attitude. Right now, 'Americans get displaced, and foreigners are underpaid' is the prevailing accepted attitude."
Meanwhile, other factors may be damping enthusiasm for H-1B workers. "I have seen a decrease in the number of H-1B workers being hired," said Nanci Brewer, human resources consultant at Wine Country Consulting. "Since 9/11, the high-tech recovery has been slow, and only this year have we started to see a bit of a boom in hiring again." Although "there remains a healthy number of U.S. workers available," she said, "for some high-tech companies who need specialized EEs, foreign nationals are still one of their main options."