Senator Asks U.S. Agencies to Explain High H-1B Use

By Deborah Perelman  |  Posted 12-04-2007
Sen. Chuck Grassley, long an advocate of transparency in the H-1B program, has found a new target: the Federal government.

The Iowa Republican has fired off two letters to two federal agencies--the only two among the top 200 users of H-1B temporary worker visas in 2006--asking them to disclose why they made these hires.

"While the H-1B program has served a valuable purpose in allowing companies to bring in temporary workers for high-skilled jobs, Congress has a responsibility to make sure that Americans are not overlooked in the process," Grassley wrote. "I'm asking questions today to find out how many taxpayer dollars are being used to recruit foreign workers and how invested our government-backed entities are in this visa program."

From Fannie Mae and the National Institutes of Health, Grassley requests a better understanding of the way they use H-1B visas in their workplaces by asking them to provide him with an annual listing of H-1B workers they employ, the job titles under which those workers are employed and a detailed description of the efforts that the two organizations make, if any, to hire a domestic worker before hiring an H-1B worker.

It is this last point that has been the stickiest issue for H-1B proponents, who claim that due to a shortage of available U.S. workers, typically in engineering and technology, they have little choice but to hire foreigners to fill their talent gaps.

Grassley, along with Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, sent letters to the nine Indian firms that were issued nearly 20,000 of the 65,000 visas issued in 2006, requesting details on the way they use their H-1B visas. In April, the two senators proposed a bill that would give U.S. workers first dibs on jobs that were to go to H-1B visa holders.

In June, Grassley asked the Department of Labor to review a video in which an immigration law firm offered advice on how companies could avoid hiring U.S. workers when foreign workers were preferred, and investigate the law firm's "unethical procedures."