H-1B Visa Process: Something Has to Give, but What?


The number of applications exceeded the number of available H-1B visas on the first day the U.S. government began accepting the applications, providing clear evidence that something has to change -- though it's less clear than ever whether that means simply upping the number of visas allowed or fundamentally altering the system for awarding them.


Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) are in the latter camp, and earlier this week introduced a sweeping reform bill called he H-1B and L-1 Visa Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act of 2007.


Among its provisions: requiring all employers of H-1B workers to pledge they've first made a good-faith effort to find American workers to fill positions; requiring employers to advertise job openings for 30 days on the Department of Labor's Web site before making H-1B visa applications; barring employers from advertising positions only to H-1B holders; and changing the existing formula for calculating the "prevailing wage" so H-1B salaries would be on a par with those of American workers.


The bill would restrict companies with 50 or more workers from employing more than half of their staff through H-1B visas. And it would increase the Department of Labor's ability to police the program, by giving the agency the ability to conduct random audits on employers, among other enforcement tools.


Though we probably won't win any popularity contests for saying so, none of these provisions seem unreasonable to us. Sure, they will require companies that want to employ more H-1B workers to jump through more hoops, but the end result should be an improved process that will benefit everyone -- except companies that have been willfully trying to scam the system.


Many H-1B opponents charge that employers use the program as a way to hire workers that are not paid as well as their American colleagues -- and there seems to be truth in that, based upon a recent Government Accountability Office report. So why not make salaries more equitable? Giving the Department of Labor more authority also appears to be a no-brainer, based on evidence of lax oversight of the program. Why should any company be allowed to advertise jobs to only one demographic, whether it's a certain ethnic group or an H-1B visa holder?


Of course, this legislation doesn't mean that Congress shouldn't also consider raising the current cap. We'd like to see that addressed as well.