RSC Chair Banks introduces bill to reform H-1B visa program, protect American tech workers

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FIRST ON FOX: The head of the Republican Study Committee is introducing a bill to reform the controversial H-1B visa program to stop what critics say is the use of the program by Big Tech companies to undercut the wages of American tech workers.

The “American Tech Workforce Act of 2021,” introduced by Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., builds on a Trump-era push to reform the guest worker program for high-skilled workers. The program has been dogged by claims that Big Tech companies use it to import cheaper foreign tech workers to replace their more expensive American counterparts. Proponents of the program reject those claims and say that the program is used to fill gaps in the labor market.

The bill, which has 11 co-sponsors, would set a wage floor for H-1B visa recipients equal to that being paid to American workers currently in the position, or $110,000 — whichever is higher. It would also give priority to employers offering higher wages, a move that the Republicans say would incentivize companies to offer higher wages in order to secure the limited visa spots.

Separately, it would also end the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which allows foreign nationals on student visas to work in the U.S. for up to three years if they have certain qualificationsin STEM fields. Critics have said this has also given another path to companies to hire cheaper foreign workers over their American counterparts.

Finally, the legislation would also limit the ability of companies to partner with third-party companies to fill H-1B visa spots.

Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., is introducing a bill to reform the controversial H-1B visa program. Banks pictured here during an appearance on Fox News. 

“Big Tech is setting aside some of the most lucrative and valuable career opportunities in America, and giving them exclusively to foreign guest workers,” Banks said in a statement. “They’re cutting Americans out to save a few bucks. It’s domestic outsourcing. This shocking disregard for American workers and their role in our nation’s future is unpatriotic. We must fix Big Tech’s incentives so they begin putting Americans first.”

The move represents the latest effort to crack down on alleged abuse in the program. The Trump administration published rules that would change the methodology of the “prevailing wage” and the definition of “specialty occupation” but they never went into effect.

Typically, companies can bring in up to 85,000 workers in a year under the program, and applicants come predominantly from India and China. The H-1B visa program has been a key target of immigration hawks for years, and a push against the abuse of the program has coincided with an increased crackdown by Republicans on Big Tech companies like Apple, Microsoft and Facebook – who make up some of the top recipients of the program.

It also shows how some Republicans are increasingly focusing not only on the question of illegal immigration, but also on the effects of some aspects of legal immigration and how they may harm American workers.

This bill is an opportunity for all Representatives to make clear that they stand with American workers,” she said.

 RJ Hauman, head of government relations at FAIR, said his group was “thrilled” to support the legislation.

“Remember, immigration policymaking should not be solely focused on border security, but also protecting American workers from unfair competition,” he said in a statement. “Congressman Jim Banks understands this and we commend him for his leadership on the immigration issue.”

Cosponsors on the bill include Reps. Mary Miller, R-Ill., Madison Cawthorn, R-NC, Eric Crawford, R-Ark., Michael Burgess, R-Texas, Beth Van Duyne, R-Texas, and Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif.

The bill comes as immigration provisions are being debated in the Capitol as part of the Build Back Better Act (BBA). That legislation, which is not supported by any Republicans, would introduce a sweeping number of immigration measures — including measures to recapture “unused” green cards from prior years and provisions to grant legal protections to millions of illegal immigrants. 

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