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Immigration Reform

Sen. Charles E. Grassley

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Mr. President, earlier this year, the Senate tried to solve the very complex and emotional issue of immigration reform. The immigration bill we considered included border security, interior enforcement, and amnesty.

It also included many needed reforms to our legal immigration process. I said throughout the debate that Congress needs a long-term solution to the immigration issue. We cannot pass a bandaid approach that includes a path to citizenship for law breakers; rather, Congress needs to improve our legal immigration channels.

I firmly believe companies want to hire legal workers, and people want to enter the United States legally. If we fix our visa policies, we can restore integrity to our immigration system, and all parties can benefit. But if we cannot pass a comprehensive bill--and I think as time goes on it is going to look more difficult as we go into an election year--if we cannot pass such a comprehensive bill, I think that we should consider passing legislation we can agree on.

I am taking the floor at this time to talk about the H-1B visa provisions that were included in the immigration bill and ask my colleagues to take a second look at these needed reforms.

Many companies use H-1B programs. It has served a valuable purpose. But we need to reevaluate how this program operates and work to make it more effective. The H-1B program was officially created in 1990, although we have brought foreign workers legally into our country for over 30 years.

It was brought into existence to serve American employers that needed high-tech workers. It was created to file a void in the U.S. labor force. The visa holders were intended to file jobs for a temporary amount of time, while the country invested in American workers to pick up the skills our economy needed.

We attached fees to the visas that now bring in millions of dollars. These fees and the dollars that come with it are invested in training grants to educate our own workforce. We use the funds to put kids through school for science, technology, engineering, and math skills. We provide students with scholarships with the hope that they will replace imported foreign workers.

Unfortunately, the H-1B program is so popular, it is now replacing the U.S. labor force rather than supplementing it. The high-tech and business community is begging Congress to raise or eliminate the annual cap that currently stands at 85,000 visas each year. These numbers do not include and account for those who are exempt from the cap. For instance, we don't count employees at institutions of higher education or nonprofit research organizations. We don't count those who change jobs or renew their H-1B visa. My point is, we have many more than 85,000 H-1B visas distributed each year. I am here to tell my colleagues that increasing the visa supply is not the only solution to the so-called shortage of high-tech workers.

Since March of this year, the Senator from Illinois, Mr. Durbin, and I have taken a good look at the H-1B visa program. We have raised issues with the Citizenship and Immigration Service as well as the Department of Labor. We have asked questions of companies that use the H-1B visa, and I have raised issues with attorneys who advise their clients on how to get around the permanent employment regulations. I would like to share what I have learned. I want to give some fraud and abuse examples. Unfortunately, there are some bad apples in the H-1B visa program.

In 2005, a man was charged with fraud and misuse of visas, money laundering, and mail fraud for his participation in a multistate scam to smuggle Indian and Pakistani nationals into the United States with fraudulently obtained H-1B visas. The man created fictitious companies, often renting only a cubicle simply to have a mailing address. He fabricated tax returns and submitted over 1,000 false visa petitions.

Another man pled guilty last August to charges of fraud and conspiracy. This man and an attorney charged foreign nationals thousands of dollars to fraudulently obtain H-1B visas. He provided false documents to substantiate their H-1B petitions. The Programmer's Guild, a group representing U.S. worker interests, filed over 300 discrimination complaints in the first half of 2006 against companies that posted ``H-1B visa holder only'' ads on job boards. Anyone can go on the Internet and find jobs that target H-1B visa holders.

There are more than just national anecdotes, however. Everyday Americans are affected. Since looking into the H-1B visa program, some of my constituents have come to me and spoken out against abuses they see. One of my constituents has shared copies of e-mails showing how he is often bombarded with requests by companies that want to lease their H-1B workers to that Iowan. There are companies with H-1B workers who are so-called ``on the bench,'' meaning they are ready to be deployed to a project. Hundreds of foreign workers are standing by waiting for work. Some call these H-1B ``factory firms.'' This Iowan even said one company went so far as to require him to sign a memorandum of understanding that helps the H-1B factory firm justify to the Federal Government that they have adequate business opportunity that requires additional visa holders. It is a complete falsification of the market justification for additional H-1B workers.

These firms are making a commodity out of H-1B workers. They have visa holders but are looking for work. It is supposed to be the other way around. There should be a shortage or a need, first and foremost. Then and only then do we allow foreign workers to fill these jobs temporarily.

Another constituent sent me a letter saying that he saw firsthand how foreign workers were brought in while Iowans with similar qualifications were let go. He tells me he is a computer professional with over 20 years experience. He was laid off and has yet to find a job. He states:

I believe [my employer] has a history of hiring H-1B computer personnel at the expense of qualified American citizens.

Another Iowan from Cedar Falls wrote in support of our review of the H-1B program. He is a computer programmer with a master's degree and over 20 years of work experience in that field. He says:

Despite all of my qualifications, in the last four years I have applied to over 3,700 positions and have received no job offers.

He believes he is in constant competition with H-1B visa holders.

I received a letter from a man in Arizona who works for a company that employs dozens of H-1B workers. When he asked his supervisor why so many foreign nationals were being hired, the head of human resources said:

If the company has an American and a person from India, both with the same skill set, the company will hire the person from India because they can pay them less.

These are firsthand stories from U.S. workers. I ask those begging for an increase in foreign workers to explain these cases to me. Why are Americans struggling to get jobs as software developers, data processors, and program analysts?

Senator Durbin and I inquired with several foreign-based companies that use the H-1B program. Rather than sending a letter to all companies that use the program, which would be over 200 companies, we decided to start our investigation with foreign-based entities. Our intention was to learn how foreign companies are using our visas. We learned that the top nine foreign-based companies used 20,000 visas in 2006. Think of what a high percentage that is of the 85,000, just nine foreign-based companies, 20,000 visas in the year 2006. I say that twice for emphasis. It just so happens that Indian companies are using one-third of the available visas we allocate each year, but there is more to learn. We are not done asking questions. We, meaning Senator Durbin and I, continue to talk to U.S.-based companies and companies in our own States that use the program.

The Citizenship and Immigration Service also has concerns. Our review has prompted discussion among the executive branch, businesses, labor unions, and workers, and workers are the ones we are concerned about. So we are not the only ones asking questions. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service is also worried about fraud in the program. This agency's investigative arm, that subdivision called the Fraud Detection and National Security unit, is doing a fraud assessment of the H-1B and L visa programs. I asked the unit to brief my staff on their work, and they reported they are not finished with analyzing the data. Senator Collins of Maine and I put the agency on notice that we are anxiously awaiting this report so we may continue our quest to reform the program appropriately. In the meantime, the bill Senator Durbin and I introduced includes measures to rein in the abuse. It goes a long ways to close some loopholes to protect American workers. It is our hope that these measures will bring the program back to its original mission; that is, to help U.S.-based companies find highly skilled workers to fill the shortage for a temporary period of time. That is what the H-1B visa program is all about.

Under current law, companies can bring in foreign workers on an H-1B visa without first attempting to hire an American. Our bill would require every employer to attest that it is not displacing a U.S. worker by hiring an H-1B visa holder and that the employer has taken good-faith steps to recruit U.S. workers for the jobs in which an H-1B visa holder is being sought. Why would anyone oppose this measure? Our bill also gives more oversight and investigative authority to the Department of Labor. Right now the Department may only review labor certification for ``clear indication of fraud and misrepresentation.'' The Secretary of Labor is unable to review applications for anything but what the law calls incompleteness and cannot initiate an investigation unless requested. This means the Labor Department in effect is required to turn a blind eye to information that is suspicious.

To remedy this problem, our bill provides the Department of Labor the ability to initiate an investigation on its own and gives the Department of Labor more time to review applications. The Department could also do random audits of any company that uses the program. Aside from these measures, our bill would prohibit employers to only advertise available jobs to H-1B visa holders. It would encourage information sharing between the Department of Labor and the Department of Homeland Security. It would double the penalties for employer noncompliance with the H-1B program requirements.

I am happy to report that most of these commonsense solutions were included in the immigration bill. I challenge any of my colleagues to oppose these needed reforms before we talk about increasing the number of H-1B visas or at the very least in conjunction with that process.

Today I take the floor to tell my colleagues that I am willing to work on this issue before the end of the year. I know businesses want more visas. I know groups that represent workers and visa holders want reforms. I know the American people want a sensible system in place that gives their children a chance at these highly skilled jobs. Some of my colleagues think the solution is increasing the annual cap on H-1B visas and doing nothing else. Before we agree to import more foreign workers, let's restore integrity in this H-1B program. The system needs a makeover. I am willing to consider an increase in the H-1B visa supply, but only if reforms are included. We must fix the loopholes before we just allow more foreign workers to come in and take jobs that Americans want to do. I would think my colleagues would want this program to work as it was intended by its original authors. My colleagues should want to protect the jobs of our various constituencies and help our businesses find the workers they truly need.

I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

The clerk will call the roll.

The bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse

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Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

Without objection, it is so ordered.

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