Legal foreign workers are necessary for a thriving, successful American workforce. They bring expertise and flexibility to our companies, allowing them to grow, innovate and create more American jobs. However, our federal visa program is in desperate need of reform and it must be addressed with a serious, clear-eyed approach.
For years, America’s work visa programs – specifically H-1B visas for highly skilled foreign workers – have been abused. At their conception, these visas were the solution for American companies that could not find American workers to fill specific, niche positions. The program allows employers in the United States to temporarily permit specialized foreign employees into the country for particular jobs, most often in the technology, engineering, medical and scientific fields.
However, over the years, the program has transformed into a way for companies to undercut American workers and replace them with foreign labor for significantly less money. Eighty percent of H-1B workers receive less than the median wage – this is not only a violation of the spirit of the program, but it also disadvantages American-born job seekers.
Several high-profile stories have highlighted this growing problem, most notably the lawsuits currently pending against the Walt Disney Company, in which American workers lost their jobs to foreign workers on H-1B visas and were instructed to train their replacements. Similar situations are occurring across the country. In my home state of Wisconsin, a number of the largest local employers are utilizing the program in order to maintain their bottom lines.
Serious reforms are necessary to tamper abuse of the program, level the playing field, and bring the process back to its original purpose.
Improving the process in which visas are awarded is one such necessary reform. In the current system, 85,000 H-1B visas are allotted by lottery annually. If there is competition to come to the United States, we should ensure we get the best and brightest, not just roll the dice and accept the results. Applicants with specialized skills should be selected for specific positions, the way the program intends. By shuffling foreign applicants through a lottery system, we empower businesses to replace qualified American workers with cheaper labor. Higher standards and stricter qualifications must be enforced. No job that could be filled by a qualified American worker should be given to a visa holder for less money.
Additionally, earlier this year outsourcing giant Cognizant claimed it “fully complies with all U.S. regulations regarding H-1B visas” and ensures their “practices are not merely compliant with existing laws in letter and spirit, but also adhere to best practices.” If this is truly the case, it’s imperative we reassess the laws and regulations governing the H-1B visa program to ensure that our country no longer tolerates questionable hiring and firing practices of American and foreign workers.
Last month, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order entitled Buy American and Hire American, which highlights the problems within our visa and guest worker policies and calls for the enforcement of all laws governing foreign workers’ entry into the United States. It also calls upon the Departments of Labor, Justice, Homeland Security, and State to take action against fraud and abuse of our visa programs. While the order applies broadly to all U.S. visa programs, it specifically addresses the problems within the H-1B visa program and demands reforms that ensure these visas are only awarded to companies that actually require highly skilled foreign workers.
I disagree with the partisan charges leveled against this executive order. Democratic leaders, such as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and members whose districts are home to many of the companies taking unfair advantage of our nation’s visa programs, need to recognize that reform is good for American workers, American businesses and America’s economic health and prosperity.
The first step in the reform process is beginning the conversation, which is what the President has done with his Buy American and Hire American executive order. It is now up to Congress to take legislative action. As Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to facilitate real reform that will not only uphold the spirit of our laws, but encourage growth, competition and diversity in the American workforce.
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