Americans should get consideration before issuing H-1B: Sen. Grassley.
WASHINGTON, DC: The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony arguing that the H-1B visa program, which covers highly skilled temporary foreign workers, often in high-tech fields, discriminates against women.
The hearing, which was devoted to issues women face in the immigration process, also focused on family reunification, and ways to help families — and women specifically — integrate into the legal immigration system, reported The New York Times.
“I don’t think we should be setting up an either-or proposition — even the most highly skilled immigrants, they have families, too,” said Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, referring to what she described as a false, “either-or” choice between family-based immigration and high-skilled immigration. “This is all about doing the kind of immigration reform that really supports the values we have in this country, and one of the values we have in this country is that family is important.”
Karen Panetta, the vice president for communications and public awareness for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in the United States of America, testified in her prepared remarks that “the vast majority of H-1B workers are men,” said the Times report.
Panetta’s prepared testimony pointed to “a serious gender imbalance in science, technology, engineering and math,” as part of the reason that these H-1B visas in high-tech fields skew disproportionately toward men. But she noted: “If a major immigration program effectively discriminated based on race or national origin, would that be O.K.?”
“The I.E.E.E.-U.S.A. represents more American high-tech workers than anybody else, so we have sources,” Panetta said. “One from inside the industry, looking at the offshoring companies that dominate the H-1B program, is that their global hiring is 70 percent men.” But in the United States, where outsourcing companies get more than half of the limited number of H-1B visas, she added, “the ratio is more like 85 percent men.”
Panetta, whose organization has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Homeland Security to get data on the gender breakdown of H-1B visas, accused the government in her written testimony of “stonewalling” on their request. “How many women get H-1B visas?” she queried.
A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said that there is not a gender-based cap for H-1B visas and that gender is not taken into account when deciding who qualifies for the program, so the department does not have this data readily available, said Times.
Ai-jen Poo, the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, emphasized the need for domestic care workers who are illegal immigrants — “a growing workforce of mainly immigrant women who take care of our children, our aging loved ones and our homes,” as she described them — to be allowed some flexibility in proving that they have been living and working in the United States.
A nanny who is an illegal immigrant, Poo said, most likely does not have pay stubs or tax forms to prove she worked for her employer because she largely exists in “a paperless world.” She called on the senators to accept “proofs of presence as opposed to proof of employment” when it comes to providing a work history for domestic care workers — many of whom are female.
Another issue of concern is that immigration legislation that is likely to emerge from the Senate might eliminate the ability for United States citizens to sponsor their married adult children, as well as their siblings, on an immigrant visa. Currently, these two groups represent the third and fourth preference categories when it comes to family immigration, but there is some discussion that they might be reshuffled and ultimately cut during the coming immigration overhaul.
“Our family is what permits us to be able to set root and really begin to build a life in this country,” said Mee Moua, the president of the Asian American Justice Center. “If those two categories were eliminated, unless some alternative version was put on the table, I think that it would just unfortunately affect women and their families.”
Moua argued that large, extended families can be critical to helping immigrants become a productive and integrated part of American society.
“Family immigration is critical to our economy, and we know that our communities and all Americans benefit when we’re able to provide immigrants with an opportunity to set roots,” she said. “We know that siblings provide immigrants an immediate social support system, that is able to help them with child care or if they fall on hard times, or instances where they need some help to start a business. The family network is what has helped our immigrants, regardless of how you come to this country, survive and start a life in this country.
“Children will always be our children, whether they’re over the age of 21 or not.” she said. “For us to start to think about which members of our family we’re going to trade away is a dramatic and drastic departure from the core values of what has been driving this country since our founding days.”
Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, however, was not so convinced that all family members of immigrants deserved special consideration, simply because they have family in the United States, said the Times report.
“Because a person chooses to leave their home country and come to the United States does not necessarily mean they have the right to demand that their father or their other extended family members be allowed to come if they don’t otherwise meet the standard,” he said.
Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, on Monday also introduced legislation that, he said, would help overhaul the H-1B visa system.
“Somewhere along the line, the H-1B program got side-tracked,” Grassley said in an e-mail statement. “The program was never meant to replace qualified American workers, but it was instead intended as a means to fill gaps in highly specialized areas of employment. When times are tough, like they are now, it’s especially important that Americans get every consideration before an employer looks to hire from abroad. The legislation will benefit the American worker, while still ensuring that U.S. companies get the specialized workers they need.”
Only four members of the committee — Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota; Grassley; Hirono; and Sessions — attended the hearing, said Times. None of the committee members who are also part of the bipartisan group of eight senators working on comprehensive immigration legislation showed up.