U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), my old boss, has an important bipartisan amendment coming to the floor of the Senate very soon. As reported by Computerworld Magazine, the legislation "would prohibit companies that have announced mass layoffs from receiving any new [H-1B] visas unless they could prove that overall employment would not be reduced by these layoffs." During a recent trip to Redmond, Washington, I wrote a San Francisco Chronicle column about my meetings with tech and IT workers worried about companies abusing the H-1B visa program in order to undercut domestic wages. It looks like populist Senators have heard their concerns and are fighting back on their behalf.
You can watch an excerpt of Sanders' floor speech introducing the legislation above, which I posted on YouTube.
Undoubtedly, the opponents of this amendment will claim that it's supposedly "anti-immigrant" when it's nothing of the kind. The H-1B program is set up to help companies temporarily employ foreign workers if they can't find the workers they need here in the United States. A company that is laying off workers in the United States, thus, should not be allowed to simultaneously use a program designed for labor shortages. This legislation is just straight-up common sense. It makes sure the H-1B program isn't being abused by companies who want to use as a quiet way to drive down wages - which the data shows is exactly what at least some companies are doing. And in the process, it makes sure more H-1Bs go to the companies that truly can't find workers here at home.
Check back to the Working Assets Blog later - I'll update readers on whether the bill is approved or rejected.
UPDATE: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's top lobbyist has sent a letter to all U.S. Senators urging them to vote against the bipartisan Sanders-Grassley bill that would bar companies that are engaging in mass layoffs of American workers from using the H-1B visa program to hire lower-paid foreign workers. They are specifically asking Senators to vote for a "secondary amendment" by Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut that would gut the Sanders-Grassley proposal.
Here are a few excerpts of the letter:
"On behalf of the United States Chamber of Commerce, the world's largest business federation of more than three million businesses of every size, sector, and region, I urge you to oppose the Sanders-Grassley amendment to S. 1348, the 'Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Reform Act of 2007.' This amendment would prohibit companies from obtaining any H-1B workers if there has been a notice or a "mass layoff" under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act in the past year, or if there will be a layoff in the next six months. Also, the Chamber urges you to support a side-by-side offered by Senator Lieberman. The Sanders-Grassley amendment is unnecessary...Further, this amendment sweeps too broadly, and is completely unworkable, as it would effectively bar an employer from using H-1B workers if it had a 'mass layoff' in the past year or anticipated one in the near future."
It's really unbelievable how shameless people are in Washington - it is a city where its just AOK to oppose legislation that would prevent abuse of the H-1B program by corporate executives who want to use it to lay off American workers and hire lower-paid foreign workers. And I'm still amazed (though I know I shouldn't be) that Lieberman is carrying the bill to gut this commonsense proposal. His corruption is now just so out there for everyone to see, bringing him down to a new level of shamelessness. He's pushing the poison pill as a pretty clear payback to the Chamber for the massive ad buy the organization did for him during his tough-fought re-election race. Here's the New Haven Register's details on that from 9/9/06:
"The U.S. Chamber of Commerce ran an ad from Sept. 1-7 for Lieberman, part of a $10 million national campaign to back candidates responsive to business interests who are in competitive races...Geoff O'Hara, executive director for the Eastern Region of the chamber, cited the senator's votes on free trade legislation, transportation funding, bankruptcy reform and class-action legal reform as particularly important to them."
I'll update folks on the bill's progress as I get more information.