H-1B reform bill may push more work offshore

Summary:On paper a bipartisan Senate bill to crack down on H-1B visa abuses doesn't look half bad. Why shouldn't American workers get priority for technology jobs?

On paper a bipartisan Senate bill to crack down on H-1B visa abuses doesn't look half bad. Why shouldn't American workers get priority for technology jobs?

The reality is going to be quite different. In fact, don't be surprised if this bill encourages companies to push more work offshore. The H-1B program allows U.S. companies to employ foreigners with at least a bachelor's degree in a specialty for up to six years.

Anne Broache reports that Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced a bill that imposes additional obligations on companies hiring foreigners. Among the requirements in the bill:

  • All companies must pledge that they made a "good faith effort" to hire American workers first and that an H-1B worker won't displace a U.S. worker.
  • Any company wanting to hire an H-1B worker must first advertise the job opening for 30 days on the Department of Labor site.
  • Companies won't be allowed to hire H-1B employees who are outsourced to other companies. They also can't recruit only H1-B holders for a job.
  • If companies employ more than 50 people and half of them are H-1B visa holders they won't be allowed to hire any more.

In addition, the Department of Labor will be empowered to conduct spot checks on companies H-1B hiring practices. The Department of Labor will get more time to review H-1B application and be required to share visa information with the Department of Homeland Security.

“Our immigration policy should seek to complement our U.S. workforce, not replace it,” Durbin said in a statement. Grassley noted that the bill is about "protecting the American worker."

Sounds good right? Now time for the reality check. A company, say Microsoft on any other technology concern that hires a lot of H-1B workers, is going to look at this bill and say it's not worth the effort to hire foreigners in the U.S.

On the surface that may be good--assuming that the company turns around an hires a U.S. worker. The rub: Companies are more likely to go where the engineers and programmers are. And that means the work that would have gone to a H-1B worker in the U.S. will now move to India, Russia, China or elsewhere. Foreigners will still be hired, but not on U.S. soil.

Like most initiatives out of Washington D.C. the H-1B bill makes for good sound bytes. The unintended consequences can be quite different.

Topics: Tech & Work


Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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