A new bill to tighten the H-1B visa program — and crack down on foreign outsourcing companies — was proposed by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Dick Durbin, D-Illinois.

“Congress created the H-1B and L-1 visa programs to complement America’s high-skilled workforce, not replace it,” Grassley said. “Unfortunately, some companies are trying to exploit the programs by cutting American workers for cheaper labor.”

While some such as Grassley and Durbin have criticized the H-1B program, proponents say it’s needed to provide access to needed talent, including tech workers.

However, it’s unlikely this bill will become law given the partisan divide, said Mark Roberts, CEO of the TechServe Alliance. The partisan divide is particularly acute on immigration issues.

“If it were to become law, it would be highly disruptive to the IT staffing industry making access to H-1B candidates more difficult,” Roberts said. “It would exacerbate the challenge in meeting client needs amidst an already severe technical talent shortage.”

The bill, titled the “H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act,” would, according to Grassley and Durbin:

  • Require US Citizenship and Immigration Services to prioritize the annual allocation of H-1B visas to ensure the “best and brightest” STEM advanced degree students educated in the US would receive preference for an H-1B visa. It would also prioritize other US advanced-degree holders, those being paid a high wage and those with valuable skills.
  • Prohibit the replacement of US workers by H-1B or L-1 visa holders and clarify that working conditions of similarly employed US workers may not be adversely affected by the hiring of an H-1B worker, including H-1B workers who have been placed by another employer at the US worker’s worksite.
  • Prohibit companies with more than 50 employees — of which at least half are H-1B or L-1 holders — from hiring additional H-1B employees. This is, the senators said, aimed at outsourcing companies that import large numbers of H-1B and L-1 workers for temporary training purposes only to send the workers back to their home countries to do the same job.
  • Require the production of statistical data about the H-1B and L-1 programs, including wage data, worker education levels, place of employment and gender.

The bill, which is numbered S. 3720, has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

The text of the bills is here.