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Udall Calls for Reform of H-1B Worker Program

<em>Lawmaker releases GAO report showing weaknesses in tracking foreign workers</em>
Oct 2, 2003
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, Representative Mark Udall (D-CO), ranking Member on the Environment, Technology and Standards Subcommittee, called for reform of the H-1B foreign worker program after a government report he received revealed weaknesses in the government's ability to track H-1B workers or to verify their work conditions.  Udall released a General Accounting Office report entitled H-1B Foreign Workers: Better Tracking Needed to Help Determine H-1B Program's Effects on U.S. Workforce.  Because of data weaknesses at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), GAO was unable to document the impact of H-1B workers on employment conditions and unemployment rates for American workers.

Udall, in receiving the report, commented that: "Congress has tried to find a fair balance between the needs of industry - especially the information technology sector - and those of our workers.  Industry made a convincing case as we ended the 1990s that there was a legitimate need to raise the cap on H-1B workers.  The government responded by raising that cap from 65,000 to 195,000 from 2001 through 2003. But we have watched the IT bubble come to an end and seen companies shuttered and workers left idle.  With the cap falling back to 65,000 yesterday, I think Congress must go slow before we make any effort to again increase the cap."

In the report, GAO suggests several steps that should be taken to better protect American workers.  First, the Labor Department should be given broader authority to investigate workforce conditions in those places that rely on H-1B workers.  Second, DHS must improve its visa status tracking systems and match them against entry and departure data.  Udall said that, "Not having this in place has security implications as well as employment implications and DHS should accelerate this deployment before its 2005 target date."

Third, DHS should issue regulations on consistent treatment of unemployed H-1B workers, which it has been authorized to do for two years but has not finished.  Udall said that, "Unemployed H-1B workers floating in the American job market may crowd out other unemployed American workers in a tough labor market, and regulations are necessary to give these visa holders clear guidance on what to do when their positions are terminated."

"The last two years have reminded us that the economy can go down as well as up and that job opportunities may not infinitely expand.  We need to have some flexibility to help employers respond to rapid changes in production needs, but we can't sacrifice American workers and families in creating that flexibility.  I will work with my colleagues to build more protections into any future H-1B authorization that comes out of the House," said Udall.

GAO examined what occupational categories H-1B workers were approved to fill, what is known about H-1B petition approval and U.S. citizens employment in the last two years, what factors affect employers' decisions about the employment of H-1B workers and U.S. workers and what is known about H-1B workers' entries, departures and changes in visa status.  In an effort to understand the motives of companies that use H-1B workers, GAO spoke with 36 employers based in six of the twelve states with the largest number of H-1B petitions filed by employers.  Those states include California, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Virginia.

108th Congress