09/13/2013

H-1B visa provision is important immigration reform issue

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As immigration reform legislation winds its way through Congress, the AFT—joined by immigration-rights organizations, faith-based groups, the business community and other unions—is keeping up the pressure for a comprehensive law that fixes our nation's broken immigration system. In June, the U.S. Senate acted, passing a bipartisan immigration bill. The Senate bill would enact a comprehensive immigration reform plan that provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, strengthens our borders, ensures immigrant children can go to school without fear, keeps families together, and promotes safe and secure jobs for all workers. The bill is now awaiting action in the House of Representatives.

Poll after poll shows that a majority of Americans want a balanced approach to reform and that they strongly support a path to citizenship. The AFT has joined with the AFL-CIO, the Alliance for Citizenship and several immigrant-rights groups to keep up the momentum created by the passage of the Senate bill.

The AFT is paying close attention to any proposed immigration reform law's provisions related to requiring employers to document the need for H-1B visas, which allow employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in so-called specialty occupations. In the past, loopholes in the law have allowed some employers to hire workers on H-1B visas, and then use those workers to displace public employees when state and local governments contract out government services to them. This is particularly true in employment areas such as data processing and information technology.

The bill passed by the Senate would strengthen the requirement that employers must document a shortage of U.S. workers in the area in which they are seeking to hire foreign workers. They also must now make a good faith effort to recruit and hire U.S. workers before applying for H1-B visas.

In a letter sent to senators in June, AFT President Randi Weingarten said the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act must take a balanced approach to the size and scope of the H-1B program, "so that qualified American workers both can have first preference for positions and can be assured they will not be replaced with H-1B workers."

The AFT, she added, "supports stronger language requiring American industries to demonstrate shortages and give priorities to American workers."

At an AFL-CIO briefing in June, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka described his work with the Chamber of Commerce to hammer out a labor-business agreement that the bipartisan group of senators who drafted the immigration bill could sign on to. "This is our chance to fix a broken system that has been used to drive down the wages of every worker out there," Trumka said. [Roger Glass]

September 13, 2013