Bipartisan legislation seeks to fix temporary skilled worker program
Technology innovation rules at SXSW, and that's an industry with many immigrants and foreign workers.
Because of this, a panel was held at SXSW discussing the future of the H-1B visa program.
Daniel Costa with the Economic Policy Institute spoke on the panel as a nationally recognized expert on immigration law and policy. He explained that the H-1B program is not an immigration program, but a temporary skilled worker program. Among other qualifications, the foreign worker must have the equivalent of a bachelor's degree and work in a "skilled" job. Mostly, tech labor outsourcing companies make use of the program.
Costa and the other panelists pointed a few outstanding issues with the H-1B program. On one hand, there are clear cases of American workers being displaced because similarly skilled H-1B workers are cheaper. On the other hand, tech industry experts say there just aren’t enough appropriately skilled American tech workers to fill the need in the U.S.
Costa says there is a piece of legislation in Congress that could solve both those problems.
"What it would do is require companies to first recruit and offer jobs to U.S. workers if they're equally or better-qualified before hiring H-1B workers," said Costa.
Furthermore, "It would require that employers pay their H-1B workers no less than the average wage," Costa said. "Very simple, common-sense fixes for a program that just has so many problems."
The legislation would also give the U.S. Department of Labor more authority to crack down on abuses of the system and abuses of the H-1B workers themselves.
This Senate bill is co-sponsored by a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican.