Bipartisan bill aims to reform H-1B visa system

What is an H-1B visa?
What is an H-1B visa?

A new bill wants to give first dibs on H-1B visas to the "best and brightest" foreign students educated in the U.S.

Senators Chuck Grassley and Dick Durbin, both long-time H-1B reform advocates, reintroduced their bill for revamping the program Friday. The bill was first introduced in 2007.

Lawmakers have been debating proposals to change the popular H-1B visa program for years. The visas are in high demand, with three times more applications filed in 2016 than the annual limit of 85,000. But the program has also been highly contentious.

Currently, visas are allocated by a lottery system. But the proposed bill would eliminate the lottery system and task the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services with creating a "preference system" 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, according to the announcement.

In so doing, Grassley and Durbin say they'll weed out outsourcing firms.

H-1B visas are used so that foreign workers can fill skill gaps in the American workforce. However, critics argue that outsourcing firms exploit the system by hiring foreign workers and paying them less than Americans would make for the same jobs.

Related: Startup visa alternative will launch in July

President Donald Trump has said he wants to crack down on misuse of visas -- but it's unclear how he might do so. Some speculate that the timing of Grassley and Durbin's bill could be to preempt any actions by Trump on immigration in the coming days.

Related: Trump's crackdown on 'visa abuse': Experts weigh in

Other elements of the bill, called the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act, include giving the Department of Labor "enhanced authority" to review, investigate and audit employers sponsoring H-1B visas and L-1 visas (for foreigners who've worked in an overseas branch of the company and request transfer to the U.S.). It would also establish wage floors for L-1 workers.

Like other proposals on the table, Grassley and Durbin say their bill will both help American workers and crack down on the exploitation of foreigners.

Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican, introduced a bill earlier this month that aims to make it more expensive and complicated for companies to use H-1B visas. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat who represents Silicon Valley, plans to introduce a more comprehensive bill that would award visas based on which employers offer the highest salaries.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the bill had not yet been introduced. It was introduced on Friday.

If you're an immigrant in the tech community and are worried about Trump's proposed immigration policies, please get in touch.

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