Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill. -- both of whom sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee's immigration subcommittee -- accused the Indian companies of using so-called H-1B visas to, in Grassley's words, "displace qualified American workers."
The senators issued a joint statement on the issue Monday.
The H-1B program, administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, allows companies to import skilled workers from foreign countries for up to three years. The visas are renewable for one additional three-year period. Under program rules, employers must pay H-1B workers a wage that is in line with averages for their industry and geographic location, and post the wages in a place visible to other workers.
Grassley and Durbin claim that Indian outsourcers are skirting H-1B rules and are using the visas to stock their U.S. operations with low-paid Indian nationals. They also contend that the companies use the program to expose their Indian workforce to U.S. customer operations -- easing the process of ultimately moving the work offshore.
"Considering the high amount of fraud and abuse in the visa program, we need to take a good hard look at the employers that are using H-1B visas and how they are using them," said Grassley.
Grassley and Durbin on Monday dispatched letters to the CEOs of the top nine foreign-based visa users, including Indian outsourcers Infosys Technologies, Wipro Technologies, and Tata Consultancy Services, asking for details about how they use their H-1B visas. Among other things, the senators want information on the wages paid to the visa workers and what efforts were made to recruit U.S. citizens before hiring foreigners.
Unlike permanent resident, or so-called "green card" visas, the H-1B program doesn't require employers to prove that no American citizens are available for the job in question before they can hire a foreign applicant.
Grassley and Durbin want to change that. They recently introduced legislation that would give American workers priority over H-1B visa applicants when it comes to filling domestic tech jobs.
Supporters of the H-1B program -- a powerful group that includes tech giants like IBM, Microsoft, and Cisco Systems -- say they need access to foreign workers to counter what they maintain is a shortage of hi-tech workers in the United States.