Two of the Senate's leading H-1B reformers, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), say abuse of the H-1B visa "is real" and the need for reform is urgent. On Tuesday they introduced a new reform bill they say will protect U.S. workers.
The two senators have made repeated efforts since 2007 to try to reform the H-1B program. This time, they're getting help from three senate co-sponsors: Bill Nelson -- a Democrat from Florida, where Disney replaced U.S. workers with H-1B holders -- and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). Both Brown and Blumenthal signed a letter earlier this year requesting a federal review of the use of H-1B workers at Southern California Edison.
"The H-1B visa program was never meant to replace qualified American workers, but it was instead intended as a means to fill gaps in highly specialized areas of employment that cannot be filled by Americans," said Grassley, in a statement.
Grassley said the "abuse of the system is real, and media reports are validating what we have argued against for years, including the fact that Americans are training their replacements."
"There's a sense of urgency here for Americans who are losing their jobs to lesser skilled workers who are coming in at lower wages on a visa program that has gotten away from its original intent," Grassley continued. "Reform of the H-1B visa program must be a priority."
As with a previous bill, this latest effort, The H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act, will require all employers who seek to hire H-1B workers "to first make a good faith effort to recruit American workers" for the jobs in question.
This bill "explicitly prohibits the replacement of American workers by H-1B or L-1 visa holders," said the senators, in a joint statement.
A new provision will prioritize the annual allocation of H-1B visas. The large IT services companies that offshore jobs have been receiving more than half of the annual visa allotment, hurting the chances of employers trying to hire smaller numbers of workers.
This bill will give graduates of U.S. universities preference in the visa distribution. "The preference system also gives a leg up to advanced degree holders, those being paid a high wage, and those with valuable skills," they wrote.
The 58-page bill was just released, and it remains to be seen how effective or controversial these proposals will be.
The bill also includes limits on large providers of outsourced IT services, prohibiting them from hiring H-1B workers if more than 50% of their employees are on H-1B or L-1 visas.
The Department of Labor would also get more authority to investigate and audit employers, and users will be required to provide "extensive statistical data" about the H-1B program. There has never been government data released, for instance, on the gender of H-1B workers. The program is believed to be predominately male.
Grassley, who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, can ensure that this legislation gets a hearing, but he faces strong headwinds from the tech industry and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the No. 2 member of the Senate.
Citing concerns by the tech industry, Hatch fought Grassley over H-1B reforms two years ago during the debate on the Senate's comprehensive immigration bill.
Hatch is sponsoring the I-Squared bill, which would raise the base H-1B cap from 65,000 to 195,000 annually. Blumenthal is a co-sponsor of the I-Squared legislation, but his support of the new Grassley-Durbin bill may be a sign that his views about I-Squared are changing.
There's also potential for additional competing bills. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) says he is working on an H-1B reform bill.