March 15, 2006
Senate Judiciary Committee
224 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution defines the specific powers reserved to the Congress so that it might “…provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.” It is hard to imagine how the so-called “guest worker” provisions contained in the immigration bill currently pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee could protect the “general welfare” of America’s working families in any way, shape or form.
In our opinion, the guest worker provisions contained in this draft bill—as the AFL-CIO had stated in previous correspondence—is an unconscionable giveaway of domestic job opportunities. The massive, new H-2C program would create a gigantic pool of unlimited, easily exploitable foreign workers who would not only displace American workers but as well serve to drive down wages, working conditions and living standards. No meaningful protections would be in place to protect domestic or foreign workers alike from economic abuse. It is truly unfathomable as to why the Committee appears to be hell bent on repeating the sordid history of past Congressional mistakes from Bracero to the H-1B debacle.
The bill also proposes unwarranted expansions in the poster child program of bad immigration law—the H-1B. Among the most egregious provisions:
- Mandates a retroactive increase to 195,000 from the current 65,000 H-1B visa cap (exclusive of existing exemptions) for the years of 2004-2006, in effect allowing for a one time visa grab by employers of nearly 400,000 visas!
- Increases the 65,000 visa cap to 115,000—a 60% hike!
- Requires an automatic 20% annual hike in the new cap whenever the visas are exhausted, thus establishing a new annual cap for each successive year. This in effect rips the lid off of any meaningful annual visa limitation.
- Adds still another open-ended exemption from the cap for any foreign national that has an advanced degree in science, technology, engineering or math from anywhere on the planet. At least the previous exemption authored by the committee restricted such visas to foreign graduates of U.S. institutions and limited it to 20,000 annually.
Taken together, within one year over 600,000 new foreign professionals could flood the U.S. market, the result of which would be to inflict serious economic harm on highly skilled, well educated American workers. We view that outcome as well as the underlying proposal as ridiculous in the extreme.
Initially, Congress intended that programs like H-1B would be limited in number and duration sufficient to ameliorate the consequences of spot labor shortages. Since existing statutory “safeguards” are laughable and agency enforcement inept, this bill completes the metamorphosis of H-1B into a long term, out of control mechanism that does little else than to wreak economic havoc on our professionals while indenturing workers from abroad seeking real economic opportunity.
Finally, we feel compelled to briefly address changes proposed in the student visa program. Student visas were originally intended to allow foreign students to come to the U.S for one purpose—education. Changes proposed by the bill would put tens of thousands of foreign students in direct competition with our own undergraduate and graduate students for full and part time job opportunities. For our own, many U.S. students need those jobs to pay their way through school, to help pay off thousands of dollars in education loans and in many situations to gain the skills and experience necessary for a successful career. The challenges confronting them should not be made more onerous because of changes in the student visa program. The new F-4 visa for those pursuing an advanced degree in math, engineering, technology and physical sciences coupled with the impact of H-1B will in fact work in tandem to discourage American students from pursuing an education in these so-called shortage disciplines. Simply stated, their job opportunities will be limited both before and after graduation and their wage prospects diminished by foreign workers who, studies have shown, are paid far less than the prevailing rate.
In conclusion, we are appalled by the fact that the Committee appears ready to move forward on such wide ranging changes in U.S. immigration law without so much as a minute of public hearings on the matter. No witnesses called, no expert testimony heard, no impact analysis done and no consideration of the many reforms that we and other organizations have submitted in the past to the Committee relative to the H-1B program.
In light of this and the serious substantive deficiencies in the pending construct, the 22 national unions of the DPE urge you to reject any expansion in the aforementioned visa programs, particularly H-1B—including the Brownback amendment on nurses and physical therapists—until Congress has first reformed it, put into place real worker protections, limited it to a true temporary program and determined—in the context of current labor market conditions—what the appropriate numerical parameters should be.
Thank you for your consideration of our views.
Paul E. Almeida