A new immigration reform amendment that's being proposed by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-V) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) could make it a lot tougher for firms to plan mass layoffs of U.S. workers if those companies have also hired foreign workers on visas.
The bi-partisan Sanders-Grassley amendment, which the senators hope to have "in the queue" for introduction before the Senate stops immigration reform debate, would require U.S. companies to certify to the Department of Labor that they haven't had any "mass layoffs" of American workers in the previous 12 months. If so, those companies would need to file visa petitions with the U.S. government to hire any new foreign worker, according to Warren Gunnels, senior policy advisor to Sanders.
A company that does announce mass U.S. layoffs after its received approval to hire new foreign workers must inform those foreign workers' that their visas will expire in 60 days. So in essence, the amendment would require those companies to also cut their foreign workers if planning U.S. layoffs.
The amendment would cover an array of employer-based visas, including those used most frequently for hiring technology workers, especially H-1B and L-1, which are used by multi-national companies to allow foreign employees, particularly managers and executives, into the U.S. to work.
The amendment would define "mass layoffs" as the dismissal of 50 or more U.S. workers by companies with more than 100 employees, said Gunnels.
"We should be encouraging immigration policy that prevents companies from laying off American workers" rather than promoting them to staff their U.S. workforce with people hired from outside the country, he said.
The Sanders-Grassley legislation is among 100 or so immigration reform bill amendments that have been filed in recent weeks. The assortment of Senate provisions range from those that could make it more expensive for businesses to hire H-1B workers, to making it easier to hire H-1B workers.
While some observers are uncertain about how much support the Sanders-Grassley amendment will get from others in Congress, "it sheds light on the dubiousness of the skills shortages being claimed by the high-tech industry," said Ron Hira, assistant professor of public policy on leave from Rochester Institute of Technology.