There is room to raise wages. At least half of H-1B workers are hired as entry level workers and paid wages that may be below incumbent U.S. workers.
The bill also requires employers to "first advertise the jobs to American workers at this higher wage before hiring an H-1B worker."
Regarding large users of H-1B visas, the bill intends to "crack down on abusers of the H-1B system" by requiring H-1B dependent employers -- employers with 15 percent or more of their workforce on temporary visas -- to pay higher fees.
Industry groups were holding back on reaction until the details are revealed later Tuesday. Ron Hira, a public policy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, said one puzzling thing is why the base cap is allowed to go as high as 180,000, yet the H-1B exemption for advance degree grads stays near the same. Hira wondered why the tech industry wouldn't fight for a higher advanced degree exemption, given that these graduates are the ones they care most about.
Regarding offshore outsourcers, the bill includes restrictive provisions on H-1B use. If an employer has 50 or more employees and more than 30 percent but less than 50 percent are H-1B or L-1 employees, the employer must pay a $5,000 fee per additional worker. If it goes above 50 percent, the fee rises to $10,000. Employers who are seeking to convert a temporary visa holder to a green card, may be able to exclude that employee from the limit.
What may be the most onerous provision for India's large IT services may be the restrictions on India's IT offshore firms. It includes the so-called 50-50 rule, limiting H-1B and L-1 visa holders to 50 percent of an IT services firm's U.S. workforce. That provision takes effect in steps, starting at 75 percent in 2014, and 65 percent in 2015 and then 50 percent in 2016.
Regarding the increased restrictions on offshore outsourcing firms, Hira said it will likely change the hiring behavior of some of the large firms, and prompt them to acquire companies that have large numbers of American workers. That way these firms "can keep on exploiting the H-1B and L-1 programs while still meeting these thresholds," he said.
"The upshot is that it will force some changes in the outsourcers, but it won't eliminate the H-1B as the outsourcing visa, just blunt it some," said Hira. How much will depend on the wage requirements, which remain vague, he said.
Another provision in the bill would require the U.S. to establish a searchable website for posting H-1B positions. It requires employers to post detailed job openings on the Labor Dept. website for at least 30 calendar days before hiring an H-1B applicant to fill that position.
Daniel Costa, an immigration policy analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, said he was encouraged by the creation of an H-1B job database. "That will bring some much needed transparency and credibility to the program," said Costa, "Since employers aren't required to recruit US workers before petitioning for an H-1B, it's hard to know to what extent they actually are."
But Costa said the increased fees for H-1B visas on visa dependent firms "are nominal, and not much of a penalty" and argued that an employer can more than recoup the cost with lower wages.
Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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