US business leaders pressure lawmakers to ease visa rules

US business leaders pressure lawmakers to ease visa rules

New Delhi: US business leaders at a Senate hearing on Tuesday urged lawmakers to review visa caps, and ease restrictions and immigration laws governing the issue of work and permanent visas for skilled overseas workers.

The hearing on immigration reform before a Senate judiciary subcommittee on immigration, refugees and border security included testimony from Infosys Ltd whistle-blower Jack Palmer, who filed a lawsuit in February, accusing the company of misusing business visas to boost profits.

Others testifying before the committee included US Senators Charles Grassley, Patrick Leahy and Chuck Schumer, delegates from Microsoft Corp., Nasdaq, professors and policy analysts from Cornell University and Rochester Institute of Technology, and organizations Immigration Voice and Bright Future Jobs, among others.

The hearing—before lawmakers who will influence US immigration reform—comes at a time when concerns over how immigration policy and immigrants are affecting US workers is a high-profile issue, with unemployment at around 9%. It could influence legislation on US immigration reform.

Testimony was split between those advocating higher visa caps and more open immigration policies, and those wanting greater immigration restrictions, particularly pertaining to work visas, including H-1B visas, L-visas, business visas and OPT visas, which are issued to recent graduates of US universities.

Nasdaq president and chief executive Bob Greifeld said nearly one-third of graduates from US universities are returning to home countries—spelling a loss of some 17,000 people a year—with many of them in fields with high demand such as science, technology, mathematics and engineering.

He spoke about how US technology companies are losing their competitive edge due to cumbersome visa restrictions barring them from recruiting foreign-born entrepreneurs, and said reviewing legislation governing H-1B work visas allotted to highly-skilled workers should be a national priority.

“Current immigration policy is robbing America of the next generation of great companies. I believe that Google, Yahoo and eBay—many of the job drivers of the last 20 years— would likely not be founded in America today," he said. “Increasing H-1B numbers is no longer enough. We need to admit and keep entrepreneurs here so that the creative dynamism of our marketplace has the very best skills and minds."

Senator Chuck Schumer said that easing a way for foreign-born graduates of US universities in fields such as engineering, science, technology and mathematics to live and work in the US should be a priority.

Microsoft senior vice-president Brad Smith argued that the US should focus on creating routes to attract foreign-born talent, and said that while it’s important to promote local workers, education is a “long-term goal" that can be supplemented by providing a route for highly skilled foreign workers.

“In today’s economy, jobs often follow the talent supply, not the reverse," he said. “This means that countries with the strongest talent supply will have an advantage in attracting and keeping jobs; it will be those countries whose economies thrive."

On the other side, senator Grassley—who has introduced legislation to increase restrictions and regulation on the issue of H-1B and L-visas—argued that the current immigration system is too unregulated, and raised concerns about visa fraud and abuse by big US and Indian outsourcing companies.

“I’ve spent a lot of time and effort into rooting out fraud and abuse in our visa programmes, specifically the H-1B and L visa programmes. I have always said these programmes can and should serve as a benefit to our country, our economy and our US employers," he said. “However, it is clear they are not working as intended, and the programmes are having a detrimental effect on American workers."

Grassley also invoked concerns over tactics being used by big Indian outsourcing companies to “replace" American workers, referring to a lawsuit filed in February by Palmer, who alleged the company was circumventing immigration law by sending Indian workers to the US to work full time on short-term, non-work business visas, instead of the correct, but more expensive H-1B or L-visa.

Grassley’s views were buffered by testimony by Ron Hira, professor of Rochester Institute of Technology, in which he pointed out loopholes in the current US immigration system that could hurt American workers, and recommended reforms to the system, including labour market tests to see if there are domestic workers available to take jobs offered to H-1B and L-visa holders, paying guest workers market wage, limiting the visa to three years only, and eliminating additional access to H-1B and L-1 visas for H-1B dependent firms, among other recommendations.

“The United States benefits enormously from high-skilled permanent immigration, especially in the technology sectors," he said. “But our future critically depends on our homegrown talent, and while we should welcome foreign workers, we must do it without undermining American workers and students."