President-elect Donald Trump is just a week away from taking office. From the start of his campaign, he has promised big changes to the US immigration system. For both Trump’s advisers and members of Congress, the H-1B visa program, which allows many foreign workers to fill technology jobs, is a particular focus.
One major change to that system is already under discussion: making it harder for companies to use H-1B workers to replace Americans by simply giving the foreign workers a raise. The “Protect and Grow American Jobs Act,” introduced last week by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. and Scott Peters, D-Calif., would significantly raise the wages of workers who get H-1B visas. If the bill becomes law, the minimum wage paid to H-1B workers would rise to at least $100,000 annually, and be adjusted it for inflation. Right now, the minimum is $60,000.
The sponsors say that would go a long way toward fixing some of the abuses of the H-1B program, which critics say is currently used to simply replace American workers with cheaper, foreign workers. In 2013, the top nine companies acquiring H-1B visas were technology outsourcing firms, according to an analysis by a critic of the H-1B program. (The 10th is Microsoft.) The thinking goes that if minimum H-1B salaries are brought closer to what high-skilled tech employment really pays, the economic incentive to use it as a worker-replacement program will drop off.
The H-1B program isn’t supposed to replace any US workers at all. Rather, it’s meant to help US companies get skilled labor they can’t hire domestically. But critics of the program say abuse has been widespread and point to examples of high-profile mass layoffs in which American IT workers were sometimes ordered to train their foreign replacements. Last year, the Los Angeles Times reported that Southern California Edison had laid off hundreds of IT workers and filled their positions with workers from two Indian outsourcing firms, Tata Consulting and Infosys. Disney was also accused of replacing American IT workers with H-1B workers from India; two of the Disney IT workers filed a lawsuit against their former employer last year. full story