SAN JOSE, Calif. – Congress got two prescriptions for the controversial H-1B visa program in a public hearing Thursday (March 31).
The H-1B program has long been at the center of debate about immigration and outsourcing policies in the U.S. The U.S. House of Representatives called the hearing to come to grips with the conflicts between high tech employers calling for more H-1B visas and groups such as IEEE-USA calling for tighter H-1B controls.
"The 65,000 base annual quota of H-1B visas is going to come under more and more pressure as the economy improves," said Representative Lamar Smith (R., Texas) who hosted the hearing. "If Congress doesn’t act to increase the H-1B cap, then we may need to examine what sort of workers qualify for H-1B visas," he said.
An outspoken opponent of expanding H-1B visas said Congress needs to fix many flaws in the program.
"The H-1B program, as currently designed and administered, does more harm than good," said Ronil Hira, Associate Professor of Public Policy at Rochester Institute of Technology. "To meet the needs of the U.S. economy and U.S. workers, the H-1B visa program needs immediate and substantial overhaul," he said in prepared testimony.
"Loopholes in the program have made it too easy to bring in cheaper foreign workers, with ordinary skills, who directly substitute for, rather than complement, workers already in America," Hira said. The flaws "provide an unfair competitive advantage to companies specializing in offshore outsourcing, speeding up the process of shipping high-wage, high-tech jobs overseas," he added.
Hira called for more detailed management of H-1Bs including
- Requiring employers to show qualified American workers are unavailable before hiring foreign workers
- Monitoring H-1B wages to make sure they are at market levels
- Limiting H-1B visas to three years with no renewals
- Preventing companies from having more than 15 percent of their employees on H-1B visas
Hira showed a chart of top companies using H-1B visas. India consulting firms Infosys and Wipro ranked highest by far at 9,625 and 7,216 H-1B employees from 2007-2009. Microsoft ranked fourth at 3,318. IBM and Intel were among the top ten at about 1,500 each.
Bruce Morrison, a former member of Congress who helped create the H-1B program, provided a different view, speaking as a representative of the IEEE-USA. He called on Congress to pave the road for foreign students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines to get U.S. jobs and citizenship.
"There are no problems for which green cards are not a better solution than temporary visas," said Morrison in his testimony.
"We are asking this subcommittee to change the subject--from H-1B to green cards--at least long enough to address the opportunity to retain this spring's new STEM graduates permanently in America and to help their predecessors to not continue having to wait in endless lines for their dates to come up in the green card queue," he said.
Morrison said Congress should start providing green cards to STEM graduates this year.
Law makers also should eliminate the per-country limit on employment-based visas, recognizing that the biggest talent pools come from countries such as India and China, he said.
"Giving American employers enough green cards to hire new Americans means more jobs for Americans," he said.