Bush Administration Pressured On H-1B Visa Reform

A Senate committee has become impatient with promises from Homeland Security and Labor to visit reforms on visa programs for highly skilled workers.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Monday sent a letter to the U.S. Homeland Security Deptartment quizzing secretary Michael Chertoff about what progress the Bush administration has made toward H-1B visa reforms.

In his letter, Grassley -- the co-sponsor of a Senate bill last year to counter H-1B visa abuse and fraud -- asked Chertoff for an update on immigration reforms promised last August by the Bush administration.

Specifically, last year Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez announced that Homeland Security and the Department of Labor "would study and report on potential administrative reforms to visa programs for highly skilled workers," said Grassley.

However, more than six months have passed since then, and Grassley wants an update on what's been accomplished

"Despite continued fraud and abuse in the H-1B program, I have yet to see one thing from the administration to address the problem," Grassley said. "Every day we're learning more and more, but it appears that most H-1B visas are going to foreign-based companies. U.S. businesses that need highly skilled workers are getting the short end of the stick."

Last year while Congress was hammering out comprehensive immigration reform legislation, Grassley and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced a bi-partisan bill to overhaul the H-1B and L-1 visa programs and close loopholes that they allege employers have been exploiting.

That bill, like the larger comprehensive immigration legislation, failed to move forward in Congress.

However, H-1B visa reform is again being whipped up by both sides of the issue.

In recent weeks, the rhetoric has been getting louder from both the anti-H-1B visa and pro- H-1B visa camps. That's because on April 1, the U.S. government begins accepting H-1B visa petitions from employers wanting to hire temporary foreign-born tech workers for fiscal 2009, which starts Oct. 1.

Last April, the U.S government received about 133,000 H-1B visa petitions in two days, about double the 65,000 H-1B visas that can be issued. Up to another 20,000 H-1B visas also are issued annually to foreign students who graduate with advanced degrees from U.S. schools.

The technology industry has long lobbied for increases in the H-1B visa caps. Tomorrow, Microsoft founder Bill Gates is slated to testify before the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology on the future of innovation and U.S. competitiveness.

Gates is expected to speak about U.S. competitiveness in the global economy, education, and workforce development, as well as urge Congress to raise the H-1B visa cap and reform green card processes to allow highly skilled workers to remain in the United States. Calls to Homeland Security for comment on the Grassley letter were not returned by press time.

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