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Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement Hearing on H-1B Visas: Designing a Program to Meet the Needs of the U.S. Economy and U.S. Workers


Location: Washington, DC

Good morning. This Subcommittee last held a hearing on the H-1B program almost exactly five years ago today. Much has changed since 2006. Demand for H-1B visas plummeted along with the Great Recession, especially in Silicon Valley, and is only now slowly recovering. The number of H-1B workers approved for initial employment in the computer systems design industry fell by 46 percent from about 44,000 in fiscal year 2005 to 24,000 in fiscal year 2009.

On the other hand, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that some of the fastest growing occupations over the next decade will be computer and mathematical occupations -- with these jobs up 22 percent overall.

It is encouraging news that the median salary of H-1B workers approved for initial employment has increased by healthy amounts, going from $50,000 in 2005 to $59,000 in 2009, and to $60,000 for immigrants in computer-related occupations.

Additionally, the number of visas issued to foreign students keeps on growing -- going from approximately 238,000 in 2005 to about 331,000 in 2009. In fact, the single biggest selling point for H-1B visas is that they allow foreign students educated in the U.S. to work for American companies rather than our competitors. As Compete America argues, "in many critical disciplines, particularly in science, math, engineering and technology … 50 percent or more of the post-graduate degrees at U.S. universities are awarded to foreign nationals …. The H-1B visa allows these graduates to apply their knowledge toward the growth of new jobs and industries in the United States."

Yet, we still hear the same disturbing stories we heard years ago about American computer scientists being unable to find work, especially when they hit 35 years of age.

And we still hear the dispiriting stories of Americans being laid-off and replaced by H-1B workers, sometimes even being forced to train their replacements if they want to receive severance packages.

The debate persists over foreign companies being some of the biggest users of the H-1B program and utilizing a business model whereby they contract out their H-1B workers to other employers. GAO reports that a large number of the H-1B complaints have been filed against such companies.

The issue certainly reached a boiling point last year. Congress approved a special $2,000 H-1B visa fee for these companies. One of our witnesses today, Don Neufeld, Associate Director for Service Center Operations at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, has waded into this controversy. He issued a memo determining that in many cases, this business model is not an authorized use of the H-1B program. I am sure we will hear more from Mr. Neufeld as the hearing moves on.

Finally, there is the ongoing matter of enforcement of the H-1B program. Because of employers' needs to bring H-1B workers on board in the shortest possible time, the H-1B program's mechanism for protecting American workers is not a pre-arrival review of the need for foreign workers and the unavailability of American candidates. Instead, the employer had to file a "labor condition application" making certain basic promises such as the promise to pay at least the prevailing wage. The Labor Department is entrusted with investigating complaints alleging noncompliance. The level of enforcement has always been problematic. The GAO has recommended that Congress grant the Department several additional enforcement tools. We should give careful consideration to these recommendations.

All this being said, I look forward today's hearing.

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