The off-shore outsourcing of white collar jobs has hit the American economy and its professional- technical workers with hurricane force. Almost every day another U.S. corporation announces that it will move hundreds or even thousands more American jobs overseas in the global chase for cheap labor. Nearly every state in the country has been battered by this ruinous trend.
One of the major contributing factors to this jobs exodus is the L-1 and H-1B professional guest worker visa programs. The scheduled markup in the Senate Judiciary Committee of S. 1635 offers you and the Committee the opportunity to put some long overdue and reasonable restrictions on the L-1 program that could eliminate abuses and inhibit the program’s ability to foster off-shore outsourcing.
Under L-1 as well as H-1B, corporations are allowed to bring in tens of thousands of foreigners, principally from India, to work in the U.S at bargain basement rates for periods of five, six, seven years or longer. Once these so-called “temporary” workers gain the technical skills and core competencies, any or all of the work that is technically feasible to off-shore is then exported. In India, firms like TaTa, Wipro and Infosys–that are among the largest of the L-1 and H-1B visa mills–also have high tech centers that employ tens of thousands of Indian nationals to do the work formally done by American professionals.
In short, the L-1 and H-1B provisions of U.S. immigration policy have morphed into tech transfer pipeline that are exporting U.S. jobs, capital and technology abroad. Compounding this outrage is that often, qualified American workers searching for work are ignored as companies instead hire lower paid foreign professionals. In a number of cases, U.S. workers have actually been are fired, replaced by foreign workers who they have been forced to train to take their jobs!
S. 1635 eliminates one abuse—it prohibits so-called “bodyshops”, outplacement firms like TaTa, Wipro and Infosys from access to the program. While this change is needed, so are other key reforms some of which are contained in S. 1452 introduced by Sen. Chris Dodd. These include:
- Layoff protections for American workers—S. 1452 denies access to L-1 visas to companies if they have fired U.S. workers six months prior or after the visa application is filed;
- Banning blanket petitions—many employers petition for dozens of L-1 visas at a time. This enables the eventual, wholesale off-shore outsourcing of substantial business units within these corporations. U. S. immigration policy should not aid and abet the export of U.S. jobs. Blanket petitioning should be prohibited;
- Enforcement and oversight—currently there is no effective protocol under the L-1 program to assure compliance with the law. S. 1452 provides the Department of Labor with new enforcement authority to initiate investigations and impose penalties for violations. Without this, American workers will continue to be victimized;
- Visa fee—A modest fee of $500 to finance enforcement, oversight and administrative costs of the L-1 visa program should be implemented;
- Visa time limits—the current L-1b visa for specialized knowledge workers should be reduced from five, one year renewals to three. Three years is more than sufficient time for an intra-company transfer to learn the U.S. side of the business especially if these L-1s possess a high degree of specialized knowledge. Longer time lines encourage companies to replace American workers with L-1 visa workers and to “churn” multiple rotations of them for five year increments.
- Tighten “specialized knowledge” requirement—even industry representatives agree that this reform is overdue. The administrative interpretation of this so-called standard has allowed in foreign workers with often only general knowledge of a corporate product or service. Instead “specialized knowledge” should be re-defined to require proprietary, advanced and unique comprehension of a corporate function. Otherwise this visa category will be misused as it is now being used as a substitute to evade even the minimal constraints under the H-1B program.
- Eligibility— The Chambliss bill also increases from six months to one year the amount of time that a prospective intra-company transfer must have worked for the firm to be eligible for the L-1 visa. While a step in the right direction, a higher threshold is necessary. A foreign worker is unlikely to gain the “specialized knowledge” necessary to qualify for the L-1 visa in such a short amount of time. We believe that the two year standard contained in the Dodd bill is more appropriate.
If true reform of the badly abused, L-1 visa program is to be accomplished, other issues should be addressed. Employers should be required to pay intra-company transfers the prevailing wage for the work they do; otherwise L-1 is nothing more than a conduit for cheap, exploitable labor that destroys the jobs of American workers. Annual limits on the number of visas allowed ought to be imposed.Sanctions for violations including civil fines and debarment should be applied if maximum compliance is to be achieved.
We also feel compelled to observe that, from the prospective of the 4 million professional and technical workers that we represent, an overlooked issue in this debate over guest worker visa policies is that there is in fact no coherent national policy regarding professional guest workers.
Whether it is L-1, H-1B, TN or the new Singapore/Chile visas or other such programs, each operates under different standards, limitations and rules of accountability where they exist. Given the adverse impact that these programs are having on U.S professionals–many of whom are either unemployed or underemployed–as well as the non-immigrant workers themselves, it is high time for Congress to develop a more comprehensive, coordinated federal policy in this regard.
What is particularly baffling about these programs is that none of them connect to the realities of current U.S. labor market conditions. There is no nexus between the unusually high current rate of unemployment among professional and technical workers and the fact that the guest worker population now numbers close to 1 million according to some estimates. As a result, these guest worker programs in effect force well qualified, American professionals to compete against foreign workers here in the U.S. for domestic jobs. In our opinion, there is something seriously wrong with that picture.
Now is the time to be asking tough questions and to consider real reforms in L-1, H-1B and other similar programs. Chief among them are:
- To what extent are these programs contributing to the off-shoring of American jobs?
- What is the total number of guest workers that should be allowed into the U.S. under all such programs in periods of high and low unemployment?
- Should there be a higher degree of uniformity across all programs with regard to worker protections, employer eligibility, visa duration and fees, guest worker qualifications and credentials, enforcement and penalty protocols, etc?
- Should U.S.-based employers each be limited in the total number of temporary foreign workers that they can have on the payroll from all guest worker programs?
The markup of S. 1635 offers the Judiciary Committee the opportunity to begin to address these overarching issues as your review and assessment of programs like L-1 unfolds.
In conclusion, professional and technical workers in this nation have made enormous personal sacrifices to gain the education and training necessary to compete for the knowledge jobs in the so-called new American economy. They deserve better than to be victimized by immigration programs like the L-1 visa program. At a time when so many American professionals are out of work, Congress can make a long, overdue start in cleaning up the guest worker visa mess by implementing comprehensive reforms that will restore the integrity of the L-1 program.
Paul E. Almeida