Improving Visa Rules for Skilled Workers

Norman Matloff's op-ed article, ``Stop Blaming Indian Companies for Visa Abuse,'' claims that a Senate reform bill scapegoats India for visa abuses. It is important to clarify that the legislation neither targets companies nor immigrants from India or any other countries in its reform of the H-1B visa system.

The reforms in our bipartisan bill affect all companies the same way, whether they are based in India or Indiana, Boston or Beijing. In general, the Senate bill greatly expands access to H-1B visas, by raising the annual cap from 65,000 visas to as many as 180,000 visas a year based on market demand for highly skilled immigrant employees. Because this bill helps high-tech companies and highly skilled immigrants, it is endorsed by every major high-tech organization and groups representing highly skilled immigrants.

The Senate bill, however, does make critical changes to ensure that the H-1B visa process only allows companies to hire foreign workers when they are needed, not when they are replacing the jobs or lowering the wages of American workers.

Here is what is happening today. Rather than using the system solely to supplement gaps in the domestic workforce --which is what Congress intended -- there are some companies that only hire foreign tech workers with the hopes of eventually staffing these foreign workers into U.S. companies when a particular need arises. These staffing companies are based in different parts of the world, including here in the U.S. They make their money by hiring foreign workers who will then be staffed out to other companies for substantially cheaper wages than what it would have cost to hire a qualified American.

The marketing materials of these staffing companies boast about their ``outsourcing expertise'' and say that their advantage is their ability to conduct what they call ``labor arbitrage,'' which is -- in their own words -- ``transferring work functions to a lower-cost environment for increased savings.'' While this practice isn't illegal, there isn't a single elected official who will defend continuing this practice in the future.

Here is how we solve this problem. We increase the fees companies will have to pay for work visas if they choose to continue operating in an environment where a large percentage of their employees are temporary foreign workers. And, we ban this practice for companies that have more than 50 percent of their workers on temporary visas.

Raising these fees will accomplish two important goals. First, it will provide the necessary funds to secure our border without raising taxes or adding to the deficit. Second, it will level the playing field for American workers so that they don't lose out on good jobs here in the U.S. because it is cheaper to hire a foreign worker.

It is time to reform our system to make us the most competitive in the world, ensuring that Americans who work hard to obtain science and technology degrees can find jobs when they graduate from school.

(Charles E. Schumer is a U.S. senator from New York.)

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