Think tank calls for US visiting workers visa programmes to be overhauled

by Ray Clancy on October 27, 2010

US work visa programme criticized

High unemployment and other economic issues in the United States means that the country’s visa programme for visiting foreign workers should be overhauled as it is riddled with abuse, it is claimed.

The H-1B and L-1 visas that allow the entry of highly skilled foreign workers in specialty occupations, usually in software, engineering and computer science fields, are not fit for purpose, according to a new report.

These visas are also the cause of criticism of the US visa system from India as about half of them are issued to Indian nationals. India claims that the recent increase in the cost of these visas will cost India companies an extra $200 million a year.

Hundreds of thousands of foreign workers have entered the US in recent decades under the H-1B and L-1 visa programme. The visa lasts three years and can be extended to a maximum of six years. However, if the employer sponsors the H-1B worker for permanent residence, the duration can be extended indefinitely beyond the six years, in one-year increments.

According to Ron Hira though, an associate professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York state, these US visa programmes need an immediate and substantial overhaul because they are riddled with abuses that hurt both the foreign workers as well as US workers that are replaced by cheaper foreign labour.

‘The goals of the H-1B and L-1 visa programmes have been to bring in foreign workers who complement the US workforce. Instead, loopholes in both programmes have made it too easy to bring in cheaper foreign workers with ordinary skills, who directly substitute for, rather than complement, workers already in the country. They are clearly displacing and denying opportunities to US workers,’ he explained.

Hira added that these loopholes also provide an unfair competitive advantage to companies specializing in offshore outsourcing, undercutting companies that hire American workers.

In a report for the Economic Policy Unit, a liberal leaning think tank, he points to the flaws in the system which include the fact that companies don’t need to demonstrate that there is a shortage of US workers for the jobs or to have tried to recruit an American for the position.

‘Although the H-1B programme requires employers to pay the prevailing wage, loopholes allow companies to legally pay below market wages, making guest workers cheaper to employ than domestic employees. The arbitrage opportunities for L-1 visas, which lack any wage requirement, can be even greater because employers pay home country wages or less,’ he explained.

He added that federal regulations are ‘toothless and ineffective’ and regulating agencies rarely scrutinize employers. ‘Reviews of H-1B applications have found a number of H-1Bs granted under false pretences. Meanwhile, the L-1 visa programme has not been reviewed in more than four years, despite the last major report finding significant vulnerabilities to abuse,’ he said.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

John October 27, 2010 at 11:17 pm

Yes, work visa laws need to be overhauled as soon as possible. There are simply too many abuses from both sides of the equation. Employers often pay foreign workers less. Workers sometimes abuse the program in order simply to get into the country and stay there indefinitely.


Ruslan Lysak October 16, 2011 at 3:09 pm

The J1 Visa is a nonimmigrant visa issued to the participants of Summer Work/Travel program which welcomes international students to work in the US during summer months learning about the country and promoting cultural exchange. This visa enables the students to enter the USA and work there for 4 months maximum during their summer vacations. The visa can be obtained only with the help of accredited organizations which run exchange programs accredited by the US Department of State. Source:


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