Bernie Sanders wants to raise wages of H-1B workers

bernie sanders
Credit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

What will Hillary Clinton say now about temporary work visas?

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wants to reform the H-1B program, in part, by "substantially" raising prevailing wages.

A wage increase is one of the things sought by Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, in his just-released immigration platform.

An increase in prevailing wages is seen by critics of the H-1B program as a way to discourage businesses from using foreign labor to replace U.S. workers. "If there is a true labor shortage, employers must offer higher, not lower, wages," said Sanders, in his platform.

Sanders, a critic of the H-1B program, also opposes the current system of "binding workers to a specific employer." Employers hold the temporary visas that foreign workers use, and it is not easy for visa workers to move to potentially better jobs.

Sanders' plan also calls for a "whistleblower visa" for workers reporting labor violations.

Sanders doesn't go into great detail about his work visa proposal, but at least he brings it up. His main opponent in the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton, doesn't discuss the H-1B visa at all in her "comprehensive" immigration platform.

Among the leading Republican presidential candidates, Donald Trump, the billionaire developer, has emerged as the chief H-1B critic for his party. Like Sanders, Trump wants prevailing wages increased. Another candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), is on the cusp of reversing his previously supportive position and is working on reform legislation.

Republican candidates who are seen as H-1B supporters and would likely back an increase in the annual cap on the visas are former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Hillary Clinton may be more aligned with Rubio and Bush than she is with Sanders on the H-1B issue. While serving as a U.S. senator representing New York, Clinton traveled to Buffalo in 2003 to mark the opening of an office of IT services provider Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). That was 12 years ago, but the H-1B issue was very much a subject of controversy by then. TCS is one of the largest users of the H-1B visa.

The Clinton links to the IT offshore outsourcing industry have continued since then through the work of the Clinton Foundation, where Tata has been participating in its STEM education efforts. In 2011, former President Bill Clinton was paid $260,000 by IT services provider HCL to deliver a speech.

What remains to be seen is whether Sanders brings up the differences between him and Hillary Clinton on the H-1B issue, and forces a discussion on the issue.

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