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Limits on H-1B hiring by bailout recipients still in economic stimulus bill

House, Senate negotiators leave restrictions in compromise version of $787B stimulus plan

February 13, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - A provision intended to require banks receiving federal bailout funds to give hiring priority to U.S. workers over foreigners with H-1B visas was left in the economic stimulus package when U.S. House and Senate negotiators agreed on a compromise bill this week.

The $787 billion stimulus bill was subsequently approved by the House of Representatives today, and a vote in the Senate is expected tonight.

The provision designed to curb the use of H-1B visas was proposed last week by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) as an amendment to the Senate's stimulus legislation. The proposal initially sought to bar H-1B hiring by financial services firms receiving bailout money, but it was later modified to restrict such hiring.

The stimulus bill, once it is approved by the Senate and signed by President Barack Obama, will require firms that take bailout funding to make a good-faith effort to hire U.S. citizens before people who are in the country on H-1B visas.

Opponents of the measure said it is so restrictive that affected financial services firms will likely stop hiring H-1B workers altogether. However, the provision doesn't prevent them from using offshore outsourcing contractors, which typically are heavy users of H-1B visas.

As a result of the conference agreement, Sanders said in a statement today that he expects the H-1B provisions to be adopted along with the rest of the stimulus bill. He added that what may have prompted the negotiators to keep the H-1B restrictions in the bill were all of the ongoing layoffs and other job losses. "With thousands of financial services workers unemployed, it is absurd for banks to claim they can't find qualified American workers," Sanders said.

The proposed restrictions require firms that receive money under the federal Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) to comply with hiring rules set for "H-1B dependent" firms — those with more than 15% of their workers on visas. Those rules set a number of strict requirements for hiring H-1B holders, including a need for companies to attest that they actively recruited American workers and are not displacing or replacing U.S. citizens with foreign workers.

However, the impact of the new legislation on offshoring of IT work may be limited. Ron Hira, an assistant professor of public policy at Rochester Institute of Technology and co-author of the book Outsourcing America, claimed that many TARP-recipient banks "have huge shadow workforces — people who work for the bank indirectly through outsourcing contract firms."

The TARP-related hiring provision "will rectify some of the indefensible practices of quasi-nationalized banks," Hira said. "But unfortunately, it doesn't close the loopholes where most of the abuse occurs."

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