U.S. Lawmakers Propose Revisions To Prevent H-1B Visa Misuse

Abuse of the H-1B visa program is now a national controversy. In June, the New York Times reported that H-1B visas are “being used by American employers to replace American workers with cheaper foreign labor.” That abuse, which potentially threatens the future of the H-1B visa program, needs to stop, because attracting talented workers in science, math, engineering, and technology is essential for U.S. economic success and growth in the years ahead. U.S. employers who genuinely need H-1B employees are also victims of the abuse because it makes fewer H-1B visas available for their legitimate, intended purpose.

H-1B visas are designed for college-educated international employees in occupations requiring highly specialized knowledge, but only when such hiring will not depress prevailing wages. Nevertheless, in many cases, laid-off American workers have reportedly been forced to train their lower-paid foreign replacements. Companies accused of abusing the H-1B visa program include Abbott Laboratories, the health care conglomerate based in Illinois, Southern California Edison, Disney, Toys “R” Us, and New York Life.

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Loopholes in the immigrations laws are at least partially responsible for the abuse. In many cases, U.S.-based businesses that employ H-1B international workers are not even required to consider U.S. workers before hiring from abroad. Many businesses outsource the actual hiring of H-1B workers to companies like Infosys and Tata, temporary staffing firms mostly located in India.

IS THERE ANY HOPE FOR QUICK IMMIGRATION REFORM?

Comprehensive immigration reform has been stalled in Congress for several years, and there’s little hope now for any significant reform until a new Congress convenes in 2017. U.S. employers who genuinely need to hire H-1B workers should consider seeking legal advice and services from an experienced Michigan or Ohio immigration attorney who can explain the H-1B program and its requirements.

Until recently, abuse of the H-1B visa program has been overlooked by lawmakers because attention has been so focused on other immigration issues – problems with border security and the controversy over President Obama’s executive orders regarding deferred action. While lawmakers are only now focusing on H-1B visa abuse, the U.S. workers impacted by it have been silent for only one reason.

Most displaced U.S. workers had to agree not to criticize their former employers as a condition of severance pay. As explained by the New York Times in June, these “nondisparagement agreements” – gag orders, for all practical purposes – have kept laid-off employees away from the public’s attention while allowing the employers to defend their hiring procedures as legal. Technically, the employers are in fact operating within the law – they’re simply exploiting its loopholes.

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However, that’s changing. More than a dozen ex-employees at Abbott have filed claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging they were discriminated against because of their U.S. citizenship. Ex-Disney employees have also filed federal lawsuits charging Disney and two outsourcing firms of colluding to replace U.S. workers with foreign nationals holding H-1B visas.

Leaders of both political parties have questioned the use of nondisparagement agreements. Senator Richard Durbin, the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate, and Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, have both offered proposed revisions to current immigration laws that would allow laid-off U.S. employees replaced by international workers to challenge their layoffs legally.

WHAT ARE LAWMAKERS SAYING ABOUT H-1B ABUSE?

“I have heard from workers who are fearful of retaliation,” Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut told the New York Times. “They are told they can say whatever they want, except they can’t say anything negative about being fired.” Senator Durbin, who is from Illinois, vigorously criticized the layoffs and said that Abbott’s nondisparagement clause was “overly broad.”

Do foreign nationals participating in the H-1B visa program fill a legitimate gap in the U.S. labor force, or is the H-1B program exploited by some U.S. employers merely to save dollars at the expense of U.S. workers? That’s the concern that many are now expressing. Professor Hal Salzman, a labor expert at Rutgers University, told the Times that because of the loopholes, in the last five years, thousands of U.S. workers have been replaced by foreign nationals holding H-1B temporary visas.

Although many suspect that some U.S. businesses take advantage of the H-1B visa program simply to reduce labor costs, the Brookings Institution has published statistics demonstrating that foreign nationals holding H-1B visas, in fact, earn more than equally qualified U.S. workers in comparable jobs. Exploiting the H-1B visa program to boost the corporate bottom line is wrong, but it’s something we can all understand. Although the Department of Labor announced in 2015 that it is cracking down on U.S.-based businesses that exploit the H-1B visa program, what Congress really must do is close the loopholes that allow the abuses to continue legally.

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CAN U.S. EMPLOYERS STILL OBTAIN AND BENEFIT FROM H-1B VISAS?

Does the ongoing controversy mean that a U.S.-based business can no longer benefit from the H-1B visa program? Absolutely not. Despite the abuses, no employer in the United States has an edge over any other company in the pursuit of H-1B visas. And it’s never too early for employers to start preparing for next year’s H-1B filing period. The qualifications for H-1B visas are quite strict, and as you probably are aware, the demand for H-1B exceeds the supply.

U.S.-based employers are supposed to use the H-1B visas exclusively to hire international workers in occupations that require highly specialized knowledge. Raising the current cap on the number of H-1B visas that Congress authorizes each year would help close the gap between the low number of H-1B visas and the continually-expanding needs of growing U.S.-based businesses.

Stopping the abuse of the H-1B visa program is also an absolute imperative. Visas now being used by some employers simply to save money would become available to the employers who genuinely need highly-skilled international workers. International employees who receive H-1B visas must hold at least a bachelor’s degree. They are allowed to work in the U.S. for up to six years.

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Since 2005, Congress has capped the number of H-1B visas made available annually at 85,000, with 20,000 of those visas set aside for workers holding advanced degrees from U.S. institutions. H-1B visas will continue to be difficult – but not impossible – for employers to acquire until comprehensive immigration reform passes and the current abuses are ended. If you’re an employer in the United States attempting to acquire one or more H-1B visas, a Michigan or Ohio immigration attorney can handle the visa petitions on your behalf and help you to understand your legal obligations as an employer of H-1B visa holders.

Washington State Acts As DC Stalls

bigstock-People-Visa-Sign-1751484While immigration reforms have stalled in Washington, D.C., progress has been made in Washington State. Republicans in the State Senate have voted to provide financial aid to students who were illegally brought to the United States as children. Republicans reportedly decided to support the proposal after ensuring that thousands of students already on the list for state financial aid will not be put at any disadvantage. “This act is the Real Hope Act. No more dreams. This is real hope,” said Sen. Barbara Bailey, the prime sponsor of the bill.

The Republican version of the legislation includes $5 million for the State Need Grant program to offset the expected increase in financial aid. About 1,100 more students will receive aid in the upcoming academic year. Although 74,000 students currently receive State Need Grants, 32,000 other eligible students received no grants this year because funds were exhausted.

Passage of the so-called “state Dream Act” comes as a surprise to many observers. State Senate Republicans declined to consider the bill after it passed the State House last year, and they obstructed an attempt by Democrats in the chamber to bring up the proposal. “To me this is really about making sure all kids have the keys to hope, that all kids have the keys to opportunity, that all kids have the keys to the American dream,” Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom said.

But many immigrants, particularly undocumented immigrants, need other kinds of help. If you are an immigrant facing any problem regarding your documentation, status, visa, or any other legal issue, consult right away with an experienced immigration attorney. Immigration laws are still strictly enforced, but a good immigration lawyer will help you get your paperwork and applications in order, answer your questions, and help you achieve your own dreams in the United States. If you’re dealing with any immigration problem, speak to an experienced immigration attorney as quickly as you can.

Population Trends Favor Immigration

bigstock-Immigration-3151682In October 2013, the New Yorker magazine published a commentary by Elizabeth Kolbert about global population trends. Kolbert notes what many others have observed; birth rates are plummeting in wealthy industrialized nations with aging populations. She reports that what demographers call “total fertility rate” or TFR – the average number of children the average woman produces – is, in most developed countries, well below the basic replacement rate of 2.0 children per woman. In Singapore, for example, the TFR is 0.79; in Taiwan, it’s 1.1; and in South Korea, it’s 1.2. European countries including Italy, Spain, and Germany currently have a TFR below 1.5.

The problem is that as populations age and eventually decline, developed nations have fewer workers supporting more retirees, creating a social welfare crunch and putting these nations at a technological disadvantage, as the young tend to be more tech-savvy. At the moment, the TFR in the United States is about 2.06, not high enough to ease stresses on the social welfare system as more “baby boomers” reach age 65 and retire. Social Security, for example, was originally built on the conviction that there would always be more young people paying for benefits than elderly people receiving them.

The message for leaders in the United States is obvious. Other developed nations will compete with us to attract the world’s best and brightest; thus, Congress should do whatever it takes to ensure that the U.S. remains the favored destination of skilled immigrant workers. Comprehensive immigration reform is the imperative first step.

If you’re an immigrant or a potential immigrant looking to work in the United States, or if you are an employer seeking to hire skilled immigrant workers, the first thing to do is to speak with an experienced immigration attorney. A good immigration lawyer can explain the pertinent immigration laws and help you with applications, visa petitions, hearings, and more. If you are an immigrant worker or a U.S.-based employer dealing with any immigration issue, contact an experienced immigration attorney promptly.

International Students Deserve Thanks

bigstock-Close-up-of-male-hands-with-pe-46137757The next time you encounter a student in the United States from another country, say “thanks!” International students contributed $24 billion to the U.S. economy in the 2012-2013 academic year. A report published in November by the Association of International Educators (NAFSA) found that foreign students bring a lot more than a desire to learn when they enter the United States.

Spending by the 819,644 students bolsters an estimated 313,000 jobs in the United States, and the $24 billion spent in academic year 2012-2013 represented a 10 percent increase in spending over the previous academic year. Spending by foreign students and their families was highest in California, New York, Massachusetts, Texas, and Pennsylvania. By their spending on education, housing, food, clothing, transportation, telecommunications, and insurance, international students and their families create an estimated three jobs for every seven students and families.

International enrollment is surging in the United States, and last year it increased by 7.2 percent over the 2011-2012 academic year. The direct, tangible economic benefits of having foreign students come to the U.S. are undeniable; $24 billion is hard to ignore. But the less apparent benefits are perhaps even more important than money; increased cross-cultural friendships and understanding, and maybe just a smaller step toward a more peaceful world.

Even for the most savvy scholars and scientists, immigrating to the United States is often tricky and always difficult. Foreign students should consult with an experienced immigration attorney to answer any questions or concerns regarding their immigration status and related matters. If you are accused of violating any immigration law or regulation, promptly contact an experienced immigration attorney to provide the legal representation you’ll need. A good immigration lawyer will also assist with visa applications and with any immigration-related interviews or hearings. Whatever your immigration-related legal concern may be, don’t hesitate to contact an experienced immigration attorney right away.

EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program

bigstock-Close-up-of-male-hands-with-pe-46137757Jay Peak is a year-round resort in northern Vermont featuring an indoor waterpark, ice arena, championship golf course, and New England’s best skiing and snowboarding. The resort offers a summer camp for kids, an August Music Festival, and corporate retreat facilities with all the accommodations and amenities.

Bill Stenger, the CEO of the Jay Peak resort, told NPR, “About $275 million has been raised and spent or in the process of being spent.” All of that money came from 550 foreign investors, many of whom are from China. Each agreed to risk a $500,000 investment for a project offering to create jobs in the U.S. In return, the government granted green cards to the immediate family members of investors, allowing them to live in the United States. It’s called the EB-5 immigrant investor program, created by Congress in 1990. Stenger says in 2008, when the recession hit and traditional financing disappeared, the EB-5 program was a lifesaver. Without EB-5 funds, the Jay Peak resort wouldn’t exist as visitors know it today. “We would be the same old sleepy little ski resort we were back in 2006 versus a four-season, very different place today,” Stenger says.

Since 2006, EB-5 projects have brought about $600 million into Vermont, which has operated an EB-5 Regional Center since 1997. Today, more than 300 EB-5 centers operate across the country. Most are private, for-profit organizations that solicit business proposals and recruit investors for those projects. Several of the privately-operated EB-5 centers have been accused of defrauding investors, so some investors find a state-run regional center to be more trustworthy, even though investments are never guaranteed.

If you are a foreign investor, a foreign national considering investment, or a U.S.-based business person seeking foreign investment, speak with an experienced immigration attorney about EB-5 visas and foreign investments in the United States. A good immigration lawyer can explain the complicated laws and regulations related to foreign investments in the U.S. Forms, petitions, applications, and guidelines are constantly changing and evolving, and enforcement is stringent, so you need legal advice that you can count on. Contact an experienced immigration attorney and get the guidance you need today.

Raising The H-1B Cap

bigstock-People-Visa-Sign-1751484Businesses throughout the United States are starting to assess their H-1B visa needs for fiscal year 2015. Greater competition than ever is expected for the limited number of available H-1B visas. Raising the number of available H-1B visas would help ever-growing U.S. business needs. The H-1B visa allows U.S.-based businesses to hire foreign nationals in specialty occupations and specialized fields such as architecture, engineering, science, medicine, and math. Workers must hold at least a bachelor’s degree and may work in the U.S. for up to six years.

Since 2005, only 85,000 H-1B visas are available each year, and 20,000 of those are reserved for workers with advanced degrees from U.S.-based institutions. Employers, particularly those in the high-tech sector, are expressing a need for more H-1B visas to meet the demands of the U.S. labor market. The H-1B cap has been reached earlier every year since FY 2011, and it is expected to be reached rapidly once again for in FY 2015, demonstrating that the H-1B cap is set too low to meet the needs of U.S.-based employers.

Raising the H-1B cap will not cause a “flood” of foreign-born workers, as some opponents have feared. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that there were more than 31 million workers in professional and related occupations in the United States in 2012. The H-1B cap of 85,000 is less than three-tenths of one percent of this figure, so raising the H-1B cap would not negatively impact U.S. workers.

Employers or prospective employees with questions or concerns about seeking an H-1B visa should consult with an experienced immigration attorney as quickly as possible. A good immigration lawyer can assess your situation and provide the legal advice you need; he or she can also assist with forms, applications, and other immigration-related paperwork and procedures. If you’re an employer or worker trying to obtain an H-1B visa, or if you have any questions or issues pertaining to immigration-related employment, obtain the counsel of an experienced immigration attorney right away.

Advocates For Reform Are Optimistic

bigstock-Immigration-3151682Activists working to overhaul America’s immigration system are proclaiming victory at the end of Congress’ August recess. Why? Because they haven’t lost in Congress yet, and public opinion seems to be moving in their direction. With legislation slowed in the House of Representatives, the movement to reform immigration has not topped the news in the weeks that Congress has been in recess.

Reformers worried that opponents would pack town-hall meetings and conduct rallies, repeating the Tea Party actions that pushed healthcare reform off course in the summer of 2009, but that opposition hasn’t materialized. The Partnership for a New American Economy, a group that works for immigration reform, issued a statement saying, “What’s more important than what we have seen is what we haven’t seen. August was a resounding win for us.” Reformers say their confidence is based on the need that many Republicans see in engaging Hispanic voters as Republicans for future elections.

The reform advocates point to support for a path to citizenship from many House Republicans as proof of their progress. They are optimistic about passing reform legislation in spite of the uncertain political picture in Washington, where Republicans may focus on other issues this fall. One bipartisan plan is stalled because it still lacks the support of a majority of Republicans, which is what it will take to get an up-or-down vote on the floor of the House. Lawmakers in both parties claim they want a final bill approved by the end of the year.

While the current situation offers reason for hope, these delays are nevertheless agonizing for millions who have worked diligently to attain permanent residency or American citizenship. If you are dealing with any immigration issue, or if you have any questions regarding your immigration status (or the status of a loved one), you should speak immediately to an experienced immigration lawyer. A good immigration attorney will evaluate your individual case, explain your options to you, and guide you through every step of the process, working conscientiously for you, your family, and your rights, hopes, and dreams.

President Obama Speaks out against Arizona’s Immigration Law and in Favor of Comprehensive Immigration Reform

bigstock-American-Flag-504715On May 5, 2010, President Obama held a Cinco de Mayo Reception to celebrate Latino culture in America. He used the opportunity to voice his concerns regarding Arizona’s recently enacted immigration law and, more generally, to discuss comprehensive immigration reform. In his remarks, the President signaled the need for comprehensive migration reform and his desire to begin work on such reforms this year. He also made his disapproval of Arizona immigration law clear, stating “the answer isn’t to undermine fundamental principles that define us as a nation. We can’t start singling out people because of who they look like, or how they talk, or how they dress. We can’t turn law-abiding American citizens — and law-abiding immigrants — into subjects of suspicion and abuse.” The President is undoubtedly sensitive to the racial profiling and discrimination that will inevitably stem from the enforcement of Arizona’s new law.

Though it may comfort some to know the Administration will be closely monitoring Arizona’s law, and evaluating the civil rights and other implications it may have, the only solution in the end will be comprehensive migration reform. Comprehensive migration reform, as noted by President Obama, will be difficult, especially because it will require bipartisan support which has not been easy to come by as of late. Regardless, it is the only solution that will “close the door on [the] kind of misconceived action” that we recently witnessed in Arizona.

In his speech, President Obama called for “common-sense, comprehensive migration reform.” He did not provide many details regarding his vision for comprehensive immigration reform, but what he did say was enlightening nonetheless. The President predictably spoke out in favor of securing our borders and holding businesses accountable for “undermining American workers and exploiting undocumented workers.” The most interesting comment, though, was what the President said regarding illegal immigration. Specifically, the President stated that people who are living illegally in the U.S. should “admit that they broke the law, and pay taxes, and pay a penalty, and learn English, and get right before the law — and then get in line and earn their citizenship.”

In one very carefully crafted yet informative sentence, the President laid out his proposal for how to handle the current population of people living in the United States illegally. Though he never used the word amnesty, the President appears to be endorsing a program that would ultimately allow undocumented foreign nationals to earn U.S. citizenship. The problem of illegal migration is one of the greatest challenges facing comprehensive immigration reform and it is encouraging to know the President has a realistic and constructive solution to the problem. Before comprehensive migration reform can be debated in Congress, however, a proposal must first be put forth. No bill has been introduced, but the Senate Democrats have developed a conceptual proposal for migration reform. The introduction of the Senate Democrats’ immigration reform plan is the first measure in what will surely become the next hotly debated issue of the Obama Administration and, needless to say, the world and history will be watching closely as the debate unfolds.