A Southern California congressman has introduced legislation aimed at reforming the H-1B visa for high-skilled foreign workers, but a Bay Area congresswoman warned on Thursday the bill could harm Silicon Valley’s job market.
Rep. Darrell Issa, of San Diego County, intends, through his bill, to reduce outsourcing of jobs based in the United States and replacement of American employees by foreign workers.
Issa is concerned about abuses of the existing visa program by companies such as Walt Disney and utility company Southern California Edison.
“We need to ensure we can retain the world’s best and brightest talent,” Rep. Issa said. “At the same time, we also need to make sure programs are not abused to allow companies to outsource and hire cheap foreign labor from abroad to replace American workers.”
The Issa bill, H.R. 170, is designed to close a loophole in the immigration system for high-skilled workers to bring in cheap foreign labor from abroad.
The legislation would raise the salary requirement for the positions to $100,000 a year, up from the current $60,000 annual wage. By raising the salary minimum to be more in line with average U.S. wages for these kinds of jobs, the legislation, Issa hopes, would reduce the chances that American workers lose their jobs to cheaper foreign labor.
“It will ensure that our valuable high-skilled immigration spots are used by companies when the positions cannot be filled by the existing workforce,” Issa said.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren of Santa Clara County, however, warned that the Issa bill is unlikely to remedy the issue of outsourcing of Bay Area high-skilled and tech jobs.
That’s because tech companies in a location such as Silicon Valley, where fledgling software engineers can command a starting wage of $140,000 a year, might still have incentives to outsource their work to cheaper labor they could bring in for $100,000, according to a top staffer with Rep Lofgren’s office.
Details of the Lofgren bill, which she’s been working on for more than a year but has not introduced, would prioritize allocation of H-1B visas and jettison the current lottery system that’s based on the $60,000 pay level for high skilled jobs.
“Preference would go first to employers that hire mainly U.S. workers and then to H-1B-dependent employers,” according to an older summary of Lofgren’s new approach that was released in June.
Generally speaking, employers who pay 200 percent to 150 percent — or put another way, as much as 2.5 times to three times — the prevailing wage in their metro area would get first preference of hiring people through the H-1B visa program under the Lofgren legislation.
One of the over-arching policy goals of President-elect Donald Trump is to bolster hiring of American citizens and reduce the instances of U.S.-based jobs being outsourced to foreign countries or foreign workers.
“This bill is simple, bipartisan and is an important step to growing our economy and fixing one of the many aspects of our country’s broken immigration system,” Issa said.
Photo: Visa applications. (Courtesy U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service)