Durbin, Grassley introduce bipartisan H-1B, L-1 visa reform legislation

Durbin also introduces bill to eliminate green card backlog, protect “aging out” children and lift per-country limitations

Two leading US senators have introduced a bipartisan legislation that would prioritize those with advanced US degrees in the distribution of high skilled work visas doing away with the current lottery system.

The legislation “to reform and close loopholes in the H-1B and L-1 visa programs” was introduced in the Senate Tuesday by Senate Democratic Majority Whip Dick Durbin, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

H-1B visas are used by US companies to employ high skilled foreign workers in specialty occupations. L-1 visas are available for intracompany transferees who work in managerial positions or have specialized knowledge. Indians professionals extensively use such visas.

Read: How Biden presidency may affect the H-1B and L-1 visa (January 25, 2021)

Durbin also separately introduced a legislation to eliminate the family and employment green card backlog by increasing the number of green cards. An estimated 1.2 million individuals, a majority of them Indians, are stuck in a decades long green card backlog.

The H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act will reduce fraud and abuse, provide protections for American workers and visa holders, and require more transparency in the recruitment of foreign workers, according to a press release from Durban’s office.

This comprehensive overhaul of the H-1B and L-1 visa programs will protect American workers and crack down on foreign outsourcing companies, which exploit these visa programs to deprive qualified Americans of high-skilled jobs, it said.

Durbin and Grassley first introduced the legislation in 2007 and have been long-time advocates for H-1B and L-1 visa reform.

“Reforming the H-1B and L-1 visa programs is a critical component to fixing America’s broken immigration system,” Durbin said. “For years, outsourcing companies have used legal loopholes to displace qualified American workers, exploit foreign workers, and facilitate the outsourcing of American jobs. Our legislation would fix these broken programs, protect workers, and put an end to these abuses.”

“Congress created the H-1B and L-1 visa programs to complement America’s high-skilled workforce, not replace it,” he said. “Our bill takes steps to ensure that the programs work for Americans and skilled foreign workers alike,” Grassley said.

The H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act will require US Citizenship and Immigration Services to prioritize for the first time the annual allocation of H-1B visas.

The new system would ensure that the best and brightest STEM advanced degree students educated in the United States receive preference for an H-1B visa, and also prioritize other US advanced degree holders, those being paid a high wage, and those with valuable skills, the release said.

The legislation explicitly prohibits the replacement of American workers by H-1B or L-1 visa holders, and clarifies that the working conditions of similarly employed American workers may not be adversely affected by the hiring of an H-1B worker, including H-1B workers who have been placed by another employer at the American worker’s worksite.

Importantly, the legislation will crack down on outsourcing companies that import large numbers of H-1B and L-1 workers for temporary training purposes only to send the workers back to their home countries to do the same job.

Specifically, the bill would prohibit companies with more than 50 employees, of which at least half are H-1B or L-1 holders, from hiring additional H-1B employees.

The bill gives the US Department of Labor enhanced authority to review, investigate, and audit employer compliance with program requirements, as well as to penalize fraudulent or abusive conduct.

It requires the production of extensive statistical data about the H-1B and L-1 programs, including wage data, worker education levels, place of employment, and gender.

In addition, the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act includes several reforms of the L-1 visa program, including establishment of a wage floor for L-1 workers; authority for the US Department of Homeland Security to investigate, audit, and enforce compliance with L-1 program requirements; assurance that intra-company transfers occur between legitimate branches of a company and do not involve “shell” facilities; and a change to the definition of “specialized knowledge” to ensure that L-1 visas are reserved only for truly key personnel.

A copy of the bill text can be found here.

Durbin also Tuesday introduced the Resolving Extended Limbo for Immigrant Employees and Families (RELIEF) Act, legislation to eliminate the family and employment green card backlog by increasing the number of green cards.

Almost four million future Americans are on the State Department’s immigrant visa waiting list, in addition to hundreds of thousands of immigrants in the US who are also waiting for green cards, according to a press release issued by his office.

However, under current law, only 226,000 family green cards and 140,000 employment green cards are available annually. Children and spouses of lawful permanent residents (LPRs) count against these numbers, further restricting the number of available green cards.

“America is a nation of immigrants. But without enough green cards available annually, immigrant families are stuck in crippling backlogs for years or even decades,” Durbin said.

“The solution to this backlog is clear: increase the number of green cards. This commonsense legislation will finally eliminate the family and employment green card backlog, fixing one of the most serious problems in our nation’s broken immigration system.”

Read: Grassley, Durbin Introduce Bipartisan H-1B, L-1 Visa Reform Legislation (March 3, 2022)

Along with eliminating the family and employment green card backlog within five years, the bill will help keep American families together by classifying spouses and children of LPRs as immediate relatives and exempting derivative beneficiaries of employment-based petitions from annual green card limits, protect “aging out” children who qualify for LPR status based on a parent’s immigration petition, and lift per-country limitations, the release said.

Specifically, the RELIEF Act will:
Eliminate the family and employment green card backlog within five years in the order in which applications were filed;
Keep American families together by classifying spouses and children of LPRs as immediate relatives and exempting derivative beneficiaries of employment-based petitions from annual green card limits;
Protect “aging out” children who qualify for LPR status based on a parent’s immigration petition; and Lift per-country limitations.

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