Senate Subcommittee Investigates Visa Abuses
On Thurs., July 29, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Immigration and Border Security held a hearing, titled “L-1 Visa and American Interested in the 21st Century Global Economy.” Several representatives from the industry were represented at this hearing, which was held in response to increasing controversy surrounding abuses of the L-1 visa.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) explained that the L-1 visa was created so that international companies with a U.S. presence would be able to bring foreign employees into the United States to perform duties. He added that recently numerous allegations have been made that the visas are not being used properly.
Specific problems have been reported with the L-1B visa, also known as an intracompany transferee visa. This visa requires applicants to have meaningful specialized knowledge of the company’s products, services, processes or procedures. To be eligible the applicant must have been working for the company for one year. This differs from the H-1B temporary visa in numerous ways. First, H-1B visas are for foreign professionals working in specialty fields. In addition, there is a $1,000 fee associated with the H-1B visa that goes toward training U.S. workers.
When used properly, the L-1 visa serves an important function, and actually can bring more jobs to the United States. Daryl Buffenstein testified at the hearing on behalf of the Global Personnel Alliance, a consortium of international companies interested in global personnel mobility. Buffenstein explained that the L-1 visa is necessary to promote U.S. exports and to enable research and development within U.S. borders. “If we do not permit the technology and know-how to move where it is needed for manufacturing or research and development, those activities often will have to move to the technology and know-how,” he said. Buffenstein called the L-1 visa a “mechanism for job creation,” and there is no denying that when used properly, the L-1 does fulfill that function.
Also testifying at the hearing, Stephen Yale-Loehr, adjunct professor at Cornell Law School, explained that the L-1 visa has been an important tool for 35 years, used by U.S. companies with a global presence and by international companies expanding to the United States. “Properly administered, the L-1 visa category can offset concerns about globalization by keeping and adding jobs here,” said Yale-Loehr. “Congress should carefully consider the benefits of the L-1 visa category before enacting restrictions that could hurt its use and the United States in the long run.”
So what’s the problem?
Some companies have been abusing the L-1 visa, bringing workers to the United States who do not possess the requisite specialized knowledge, but rather, will perform certain functions for lower wages than U.S. workers. Michael W. Gildea, executive director of the Department for Professional Employees at the AFL-CIO, discussed recent media coverage of the struggles of IT workers who have lost work because of L-1 abuses. He went on to describe various ways this visa category is hurting U.S. workers. Beth Verman, president of Systems Staffing Group Inc., testified on behalf of the National Association of Computer Consultant Businesses (NACCB), explaining that some companies are “squeezing” workers into the L-1 category in order to avoid the requirements of the H-1B visa program.
“Under the L-1B program, unlike the H-1B program, there is no obligation to pay a prevailing wage, no obligation to pay a $1,000 fee to support education and training of U.S. workers, no obligation to attest an effort has been made to recruit a U.S. worker or attest that there has not and will not be a layoff of a U.S. worker for H-1B dependent companies,” said Verman.
There is little doubt that the debate over the use of visas will continue. With the U.S. economy struggling to recover, and unemployment still running high, it is important to ensure that there is proper oversight of the visa program to ensure companies are not abusing the use of visas at the expense of U.S. workers.
“I think we all want to ensure that American companies are not prevented from bringing their international employees here to work, as such a move could further weaken our economy,” said Senator Leahy. “At the same time, I am deeply concerned by reports that the L-1 visas are being used to displace American workers with contract employees making a fraction of their salaries, or to evade the stricter requirements of H-1B visas.”
For full transcripts of testimony at the hearing, or to view a webcast of the hearing, visit http://judiciary.senate.gov/hearing.cfm?id=878.
Emily Hollis is associate editor for Certification Magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.