WASHINGTON—On the heels of Tuesday's announcement by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that it received enough petitions, in just 24 hours, to meet the congressionally-mandated cap of 65,000 H-1B visas available for next year, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, announced today that he and several Senate colleagues are re-introducing legislation to address this urgent problem by promoting competitiveness, innovation, and employer access to skilled employees.
Specifically, Senator Cornyn, along with Senators Judd Gregg, Joe Lieberman, and Chuck Hagel, today introduced the "Global Competitiveness Act of 2008" (S. 2839) which would give United States employers access to previously unused H-1B temporary worker visas and permanent employment-based visas from prior fiscal years. The bill also temporarily increases the level of H-1B visas in a timely manner while including reasonable targeted enforcement provisions to combat and investigate fraud and abuse of the H-1B program. Importantly, under the Cornyn legislation, H-1B visa holders are only allowed to work in areas where there is a demonstrated shortage of American workers and are not allowed to act as "labor for hire" at different job sites, potentially displacing American workers. Furthermore, participating employers must agree to not rely exclusively on H-1Bs for their labor needs or advertise solely for H-1B workers, and make a concerted effort to hire Americans workers first.
"Tuesday's announcement highlights the critical nature of this irresponsible cap. For businesses in Texas, and across the country, to continue to grow, prosper, and create more jobs here at home, they must have the resources necessary to remain competitive in an increasingly global economy. Just last month, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates testified before the House Science Committee on the issue of American competitiveness. He stated that the U.S. economy 'depends on the ability of innovative companies to attract and retain the very best talent, regardless of nationality or citizenship.' I agree and we need to do something about it," Sen. Cornyn said today.
"Well-educated, highly skilled workers are key to our country's competitiveness. Our outdated system has limited the ability of many American companies to recruit and retain top-quality talent. We must address the H-1B visa crisis to ensure that America remains the world leader in innovation," Sen. Lieberman said.
"Congress must pass critical visa legislation for our small and seasonal businesses, as well as for companies that fuel economic growth for all Americans. The unreasonably low caps on H-1B and H-2B visas have made it difficult, if not impossible, for businesses to augment their U.S. workforce with foreign labor. Hotels, landscapers, restaurants, and other businesses in New Hampshire have been hit hard by losing access to the H-2B program, and some will be forced to reduce operations, lay off U.S. workers, or close their doors. Moreover, the lack of H-1B visas undermines our nation's economy," Sen. Gregg said. "Talent is a nation's most important resource in today's information age, and the lack of immigration opportunities for highly skilled labor undermines our competitive edge and forces companies to move their operations overseas, which hurts all Americans."
"Clearly, the top priority for the Congress must be passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill. But the unfortunate delay we have seen on that effort should not harm the high-tech companies and other employers who truly need to strengthen their U.S. workforce now and have played by the rules. This legislation creates interim relief for American businesses, large and small, to help maintain our competitiveness in a global market, while at the same time instituting certain enforcement measures temporarily until we can return to comprehensive immigration reform. This issue has the support of Senators in both political parties and I hope the Senate will soon address it," Sen. Cornyn concluded.
OUTLINE OF GLOBAL COMPETITIVENES ACT OF 2008
H-2B Temporary Worker Program
• Extends the H-2B Returning Worker provisions for 3 fiscal years
H-1B Temporary Worker Program
• Recaptures 150,000 unused H-1B visas which will be distributed over a 3 year period
• Imposes a H-1B recapture fee of $1,500
• Increases H-1B visa levels from 65,000 to 115,000 for fiscal years 2009 through 2011
• Increases the advanced degree cap for H-1B workers with masters degrees or higher from 20k to 30k for fiscal years 2009 to 2011
• Increases the H-1B petition fee from $1,500 to $2,250
Employment Based Visas
• Recaptures approximately 218,000 unused employment-based visas
• Distributes 61,000 of the recaptured EB visas to nurses and physical therapists (and spouses and children accompanying or following to join)
• Imposes an EB visa recapture fee of $1,500
• Exempts health care facilities in underserved areas from paying the additional EB recapture fee
Prohibitions on Outsourcing and H-1B Only Recruiting
• Requires U.S. employers to provide prospective H-1B applications with a copy of their approved H-1B petition
• Requires all U.S. employers to agree not to advertise the jobs solely to H-1B or indicate that H-1B workers will be given priority
• Prohibits U.S. employers from outsourcing the labor of an H-1B worker by requiring that the alien work only at the worksite of the employer or its affiliates and subsidiaries in the United States
• Bars U.S. employers who have an employee total that includes more than 50% H-1B workers from filing more than 1,000 H-1B petitions in a given fiscal year
• Sunsets advertising and outsourcing provisions in 3 years
Early Adjustment Provisions
• Authorizes aliens who are seeking permanent employment-based visas to file for adjustment of status early if the visa number availability date shown on the State Department Visa bulletin is no more than 24 months out from the date of filing
• Imposes an additional $500 fee for early adjustment filing
• Revises distribution of fees to increase funding of STEM scholarship programs
H and L Enforcement Provisions
• Authorizing DHS and DOL to investigate H and L visa fraud
• Revising the conditions that will result in finding a violation of the provisions of a labor condition application
• Requires information and document sharing between DHS and DOL for H and L fraud investigations and noncompliance
• Increases frequencies of H and L program audits
• Doubles the penalties for violations of the labor condition application provisions
• Adds whistleblower protections for L workers, including requiring back-pay for those harmed by an employer violation
• Limits eligibility for L intra-company transferee status for aliens working with start-up companies
• Extends E-Verify authorization
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