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Four Reasons Why Sen. Grassley’s H-1B Visa Reform Bill Is a Waste of Time

Don Tennant

Last week, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced legislation aimed at eliminating fraud and abuse from the H-1B visa program. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the legislation is far too little, far too late.

Don’t get me wrong. I would be the first person in line to shake Grassley’s hand and thank him for his tireless efforts to raise awareness of the H-1B visa mess, and to at least start the clean-up process. I’m especially appreciative of his support for Jay Palmer, the Infosys employee who blew the whistle on alleged visa and tax fraud at the Indian IT services giant, and who set in motion the U.S. government’s painstaking process of holding Infosys accountable for its actions in this country.

In introducing “The H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2013,” Grassley did a masterful job of identifying the problem:

Somewhere along the line, the H-1B program got side-tracked. The 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. When times are tough, like they are now, it’s especially important that Americans get every consideration before an employer looks to hire from abroad.

What I take issue with is what Grassley said next:

The legislation will benefit the American worker, while still ensuring that U.S. companies get the specialized workers they need.

This bill will not benefit American workers, because the reality is that the H-1B program is broken beyond repair. I don’t blame Grassley for not yet having arrived at that conclusion, because in my own case, as longtime readers are well aware, I was dragged to that conclusion kicking and screaming the entire way. But all this legislation does is amend some of the language in the existing Immigration and Nationality Act. That’s it. If there was ever a case of putting a Band-aid on a hemorrhaging artery, this is it. American workers will benefit the day the H-1B visa program is abolished, and replaced by a program that is truly mutually beneficial to American workers and to foreign workers who are genuinely qualified, and whose contributions we in this country have every reason to welcome and appreciate.

Here, then, are four reasons why Grassley’s legislation is a colossal waste of time:

  • It doesn’t ensure that H-1B workers will only be hired when no qualified U.S. workers are available. The press release from Grassley’s office translates a lot of obtuse language in the bill as meaning that it “(r)equires all companies to make a good faith effort to hire Americans first.” This appears to be nothing more than a new iteration of those meaningless job-posting requirements, which have proven to make it next to impossible to determine that a genuine good-faith effort to attract U.S. workers was really made.
  • It doesn’t do anything of any significance to prevent violations of the rules. All it does is raise administrative fines from $1,000 to $2,000 per violation, and increase the fine for willful misrepresentation from $5,000 to $10,000. Infosys has $4 billion in cash in the bank. Enough said.
  • It doesn’t ban companies that are found to have engaged in H-1B visa fraud from ever again participating in the H-1B visa program. It should. You can bet a lot of companies would suddenly make a lot fewer “mistakes.”
  • It doesn’t address rampant violations of the B-1 visa program. Palmer’s case for the first time shed light on the widespread illegal activity of placing workers on B-1 business visitor visas in jobs on client sites in the United States. Any legislation that aims to combat visa fraud and abuse must address the B-1.

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