Thursday, February 05, 2009

Nominee to head Commerce supports expansion of H1-B foreign worker program

Sen. Gregg Judd, President Barack Obama's new nominee to run the Department of Commerce, comes with a record of wholeheartedly endorsing the expansion of H1-B workers in the technology industry. H-1B is a temporary work visa program which allows companies and universities to employ foreign guest workers with the equivalent of a U.S. bachelor's degree in 'specialty occupations.' The intent was to help companies temporarily fill positions when there is not a sufficient qualified American work force.

Gregg co-sponsored a 2007 bill which would have increased the current H1-B visa cap of 65,000 to 150,000, and would have authorized a 20 percent increase beyond that number in any fiscal year after a year in which the cap was met. He voted against a bill introduced by Sen. Richard Durbin to ensure that employers make efforts to recruit American workers before hiring foreign workers, and he opposed legislation by Sen. Bernie Sanders to raise the fees from $1,500 to $10,000 for employers to import H1-B high-skill workers.

'Helping the high tech industry tap into highly skilled talent from around the world and address well-documented labor shortages not only keeps our economy strong, but creates U.S. jobs and deters employers from sending work elsewhere,' Judd stated.

His perspective, however, is tempered by strong opposition. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), a frequent critic of the tech industry's use of the H1-B visa system, has already staked out ground opposing the expanded use of H1-B visas.

Grassley wrote in a Jan. 22 letter to Microsoft, 'Our immigration policy is not intended to harm the American work force. I encourage Microsoft to ensure that Americans are given priority in job retention. Microsoft has a moral obligation to protect these American workers by putting them first during these difficult economic times.'

Grassley, Durbin and Sanders are seeking to reform the H1-B program. A bill introduced from Grassley and Durbin would require employers to make a good faith effort to hire American workers first. Employers would also have to show that the H1-B worker would not displace an American worker.

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