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US govt agencies call for H-1B reforms

Changes to H-1B visa program recommended by GAO and DOJ

US govt agencies call for H-1B reforms
The H-1B program allows US companies to hire skilled overseas workers on a temporary basis.

Two US government agencies have released recommendations for reform of the H-1B visa program.

The program, which allows US companies to hire overseas workers on a temporary basis, has been widely used by the IT sector, but has come in for criticism from US workers who say that they are losing jobs to overseas workers.

Both the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have now issued recommendations for the 20-year old program, based on a major study carried out by the GAO.

Among the recommendations are the setting up of a website where companies would have to post notifications of vacancies they intended to fill using H-1B workers, to allow American workers to see what jobs were being filled using the scheme, and to whether they were being "impermissibly replaced by H-1B visa holders and identify employers who may be engaged in a pattern of discrimination against US workers".

The DOJ also suggested that employers should be required to ‘test' the US labour market before resorting to H-1B visas, to see if there were qualified US workers that could do the job. At present, employers are not required to demonstrate that they attempted to hire US workers.

The US IT industry has made extensive use of the H-1B program, with around half of all H-1B visas issued for IT related roles, with 42% going to systems analysts and programming roles. In terms of nationality, between 2000 and 2009, 47% of H-1B visas have gone to Indian citizens and 9% to Chinese.

While the program has allowed US companies to gain skilled staff, and also for non-US outsourcing companies to supply talent to US companies, many H-1B visa workers, especially in IT, tended to earn less than similarly skilled US counterparts, the report said. H-1B visa holders were also most likely to be categorized as entry-level workers at the lowest pay grades, although the report was not able to determine the effect of H-1B visas on the wages of US workers.

The GAO also recorded frustration among employers with regards to the administration of the program, in particular the paperwork required to prove the skills of potential H-1B hires, and the lottery used to allocate visas once the H-1B visa cap was reached.

The GAO report suggests that the US Congress should now review the H-1B program and make changes accordingly.

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