NEW YORK: Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the Chairman of the Senate Republican High-Tech Task Force, came out strongly in favor of reforming and enhancing the H-1B visa program to help American employers get required skilled workers and streamline Green Cards for these workers, in his innovation agenda for the 115th Congress, which he unveiled at Capitol Hill, on Thursday.
Pointing out that researchers estimate the US will face a shortage of more than 220,000 workers with STEM degrees by 2018, Hatch laid out his agenda to enhance the H-1B visa program to meet market demands.
Hatch had introduced the Immigration Innovation Act, or I-Squared, in the last two Congresses to modernize the H-1B system, and increase the cap for these visas. At present the cap is 85,000 annually, including 20,000 reserved exclusively for graduates of American educational institutions. Hatch is likely to increase the cap for H-1B visas in his new bill.
Talking of enhancing America’s competitive workforce, Hatch said the present system of using H-1B visas to bring in highly qualified workers from other countries to fill job vacancies is “outdated and doesn’t respond properly to market demands”.
Hatch reasoned: “We need to reform this process to better identify high-skilled individuals who want to come to the United States — and who want to stay here — to contribute to our economy and our way of life.”
Without naming them, Hatch came down hard on both US and Indian companies who have “misused” the H-1B visa program to undercut American jobs, and also tried to game the immigration system.
“We need to ensure that this system is not manipulated to undercut domestic wages or displace American workers. Unfortunately, a handful of bad actors has created a great deal of unease about H-1B visas by misusing the system to offshore jobs to foreign workers. We’ve all seen the news reports. In addition, some of these companies file for way more H-1B visas than they need, squeezing smaller players out of the picture. We cannot allow this small number of bad actors to wreck the system for the responsible companies who want to help American workers and grow our economy,” he said.
Hatch laid out possible solutions to curb malpractice in the H-1B visa program: cap the number of H-1B visas any single employer can apply for; multiple waves of lotteries; require additional attestations that an employer tried to fill a job with an American worker but was unable to do so; create a shot clock, so that a visa expires and goes back into the lottery pool if it’s not used within a certain period; ease some of the pressure on H-1B visas by streamlining the process for green cards.
“After all, that’s the end goal for many of these workers,” said Hatch of H-1B workers who spend some of the best years of their work life in carving a new life in their adopted home, and seek a Green Card.
Hatch also sent a signal to tech companies to tone down their aggressive posturing against President Donald Trump and his executive orders that impact foreign workers.
“I’m also mindful of the angst many in the tech community feel about the President’s draft executive order on foreign worker visas. I want you all to know that I will work with the President on this and that I will do my part if you will do yours. That includes not provoking the White House unnecessarily,” he said.
Hatch also spoke at length about protecting American innovation and inventiveness, litigation and copyright laws; data privacy; tax reforms; and the critical need to have an open, modern Internet.