Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Heading toward collapse, U.S. banks sought foreign workers

As the banking system was melting down in 2008 and Americans were getting laid off, major U.S. banks sought government visas to bring thousands of foreign workers into the country for high-paying jobs.

The 12 banks now receiving the biggest rescue packages, totaling more than $150 billion, sought increasing numbers of H-1B visas in the past two years, 3,258 in 2007 and 4,163 in 2008. The positions had average annual salaries of $90,721, nearly twice the median income for all American households.

The requests were filed with the Labor Department under the H-1B visa program, which allows temporary employment of foreign workers in specialized-skill and advanced-degree positions. Foreigners are attractive hires because companies have found ways to pay them less than American workers.

The use of visa workers by ailing banks angers Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.

'In this time of very, very high unemployment ... and considering the help these banks are getting from the taxpayers, they're playing the American taxpayer for a sucker,' Grassley said. Together with Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Grassley is pushing for legislation to make employers recruit American workers first, along with other changes to the visa program.

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