|U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
|August 28, 2003|
Tens of thousands of unemployed American professionals have not only been battered by the economic trauma of being out of work but they are also now realizing that U.S. guest worker programs may have made a bad situation much worse. For a significant number of these highly educated U.S. workers, in addition to the ordeal of losing one’s job to a guest worker is the indignity of being forced by their employer to retrain their foreign replacement.
Under current law—principally the H-1B and L-1 visa programs—over one million non-immigrant guest workers are now in the U.S. in high level, high skill jobs that might otherwise be available to unemployed Americans. In too many cases, U.S. workers have either been replaced by these visa holders or laid off while these visa holders stay on the job. As such, by definition these non-immigrant visa programs are completely disconnected from the realities current U.S. labor market conditions and the high rate of unemployment afflicting the domestic workforce. Worse yet, because these programs lack adequate safeguards and enforcement, they are rife with fraud and abuse. Finally, we believe these programs are also directly contributing in part to the torrent of U.S. professional jobs that are now being outsourced overseas.
Regarding one of these guest worker programs—the L-1 “intra-company transfer” visa—bi-partisan, comprehensive reform legislation—H.R. 2702—was recently introduced by Representatives De Lauro and Shays. On behalf of the 25 national unions affiliated to our organization which represent some 4 million professional, technical and administrative support workers, we strongly urge that you co-sponsor this initiative.
In recent months the U.S. media—including the New York Times, Business Week Magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, CNN, ABC Nightly News, The Washington Times and others—have run exposés about how the L-1 is being badly abused. Among the disclosures:
- L-1s are being used to replace their U.S. workers. Often American workers are forced to train their L-1 replacements before they themselves are laid off;
- Foreign-owned outplacement firms—a.k.a. body shops—such as Wipro, Tata Consultancy and Infosys are bringing in thousands of foreign L-1 visa workers and then contracting them out to other employers—an activity that appears to be in conflict with current law;
- While the L-1 visa is supposed to be reserved for executives, managers and workers with “specialized knowledge”, the body shops are importing run-of-the-mill tech workers and other cheap labor for U.S. firms;
- L-1s have been used to facilitate the entry of family members of other immigrants or guest workers who clearly do not qualify for eligibility under this visa category;
- Many L-1 workers do not have the requisite credentials to do the high level work envisioned under this visa program;
- L-1 brokers are filing open-ended, blanket petitions that allow mass importation of these foreign workers instead of an individualized application process.
Besides these issues, other serious problems also exist:
- Unlike H-1B, there is no limit on the total number of foreign workers that can be brought into the U.S. under the L-1 program;
- The duration of the visa—up to five years—doesn’t fit anyone’s reasonable definition of a temporary guest worker program;
- For American workers, there are no protections against displacement, downgrading or other diminution of their job status;
- Unlike H-1B, there’s no visa fee to defray the cost of processing and agency enforcement, oversight and data collection;
- There is no requirement that the L-1 foreign guest worker be paid prevailing wages and benefits for the duration of their employment. As a result the L-1s are often paid the less-than-subsistence wages of their home country;
- Government agencies responsible for administration of the program freely admit that there is little or no oversight or enforcement;
- There are no effective sanctions that act as a deterrent to stop abuse of this visa program.
Each of these problems as well as other abuses is specifically addressed in H.R. 2702. That is why we are urging you to lend your name to this reform campaign so that American workers—your constituents—can be protected from being victimized by a guest worker program run amok.
With unemployment at the highest level in nearly a decade and hundreds of thousands of tech and other professional workers looking for work, the situation with the L-1 visa is intolerable.
The Congress created the L-1 program; now Congress must reform it so that American workers are not disenfranchised or mistreated. I sincerely hope you will join Congresswoman De Lauro and Congressman Shays in this effort.
If you or your staff has any questions regarding this matter, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Thank you in advance for your consideration of this request.
Paul E. Almeida