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Congressman Ro Khanna

Representing the 17th District of California

New bipartisan bill seeks to curb abuse of work visas

March 2, 2017
In The News

New bipartisan legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives on Thursday.

It takes aim at two popular work visa programs used in the tech and the business world.

Called the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act, the legislation is identical to the bill reintroduced by Senators Chuck Grassley and Dick Durbin in late January.

Lawmakers have been debating proposals to change the popular H-1B visa program for years, but the time for reform seems to be more ripe than ever under the Trump administration.

H-1B visas are in high demand, with three times more applications filed in 2016 than the annual limit of 85,000. But the program is flawed -- and how to fix it has been a highly contentious topic.

The proposed legislation would eliminate the lottery system in favor of a "preference system," created by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, so that foreign students educated in the U.S. get priority on visas. It would give a "leg up" to advanced degree holders, those being paid a high wage, and those with valuable skills.

In doing so, it aims to weed out foreign outsourcing firms, which exploit the system.

It will also require employers to make a "good faith effort" to recruit American workers over foreigners, as well as give the Departments of Homeland Security and Labor more authority to investigate fraud and abuse.

The proposal creates new restrictions for companies that have more than 50 employees. Under the new rules, they would not be able to hire more H-1B employees if 50% of their employees are already on H-1B and L-1s.

Representative Ro Khanna, a Democrat from California and one of cosponsors, told CNNTech that he's "cautiously optimistic" about the legislation passing, given the coalition behind it. As an Indian American, he stressed that the bill is not anti-Indian, but is rather meant to restore the original intent of the programs.

"There's a mood in the nation that wants to fix abuse," he said.

U.S. immigration data shows that 70% of all H-1B applications come from Indians.