Tech H1-B Staffing vs. 'Employ America Act'

Proposed legislation aims to prohibit major firms that lay off American workers from replacing them with cheap foreign labor using temporary guest worker programs.
Posted November 23, 2009

David Needle

Two U.S. senators have introduced legislation meant to prohibit major firms that lay off large numbers of American workers from replacing them with cheap foreign labor through temporary guest worker programs.

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced the Employ America Act on Thursday. The legislation would affect large companies that both rely heavily on non-immigrant visas and have have announced layoffs of 50 or more American workers over the past year.

Companies in the high-tech industry, a major employer of H-1B guest workers, have laid off more than 345,000 workers since August 2008. The construction industry, which employs large numbers of H-2B guest workers, has laid off more than 1.5 million workers since December 2007.

"With the unemployment rate still climbing and millions of people looking for work, we have a responsibility to ensure that companies do not use the temporary guest-worker program to replace American workers with cheaper labor from overseas," said Sanders, a member of the Senate Budge Committee, in a statement.

Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, also weighed in:

"Our foreign guest worker programs are in place to fill employment needs where there is a shortage of American workers, not as a subterfuge to hire cheap labor. With the unemployment rate over 10 percent, companies that undertake mass layoffs shouldn't need to hire foreign guest workers when there are plenty of qualified Americans looking for jobs."

The economic stimulus package included a similar provision authored by Sanders and Grassley to prevent companies receiving a taxpayer bailout from the Troubled Asset Relief Program from replacing laid-off American workers with guest workers from overseas.

Not all legislators agree on the need for capping H1-B workers. Earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) proposed legislation that would increase the H-1B cap and would exempt foreign graduates of U.S. Ph.D. programs from counting toward a cap on H-1B visas.

Employers had filed about 72,800 American H1-B visa applications for the year leaving 12,000 still available, according to figures reported by the American Visa Bureau earlier this month. In years past, the 85,000 visas were snapped up by U.S. firms within a matter of days after the April 1 availability.

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