WASHINGTON: A top American Senator has sought reform in H-1B visas system to bring in highly qualified workers from other countries to fill the huge shortage of IT professionals in the U.S.
"We have a system of H-1B visas to bring in highly qualified workers from other countries to fill these vacancies, but that system is outdated and doesn't respond properly to market demands," Republican Senator Orin Hatch from Utah told a Washington audience.
He said researchers estimate that the US will face a shortage of more than 220,000 workers with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) degrees by 2018.
That means lost productivity, lost innovation and a less robust economy, he said.
"We need to reform this process to better identify high-skilled individuals who want to come to the United States -- and who want to stay here -- to contribute to our economy and our way of life," Hutch, Chairman of the Senate Republican High-Tech Task Force, said during an event at the Capitol Hill to roll out his innovation agenda for the 115th Congress.
At the same time, he argued, one needs to ensure that this system is not manipulated to undercut domestic wages or displace American workers.
"Unfortunately, a handful of bad actors has created a great deal of unease about H-1B visas by misusing the system to offshore jobs to foreign workers. We've all seen the news reports," he said.
"In addition, some of these companies file for way more H-1B visas than they need, squeezing smaller players out of the picture. We cannot allow this small number of bad actors to wreck the system for the responsible companies who want to help American workers and grow our economy," he said.
Hutch said he introduced the Immigration Innovation Act, or I-Squared, in the last two Congresses to modernise our H-1B system. Now he is working on updating this legislation to address some of the problems he had mentioned and look forward to reintroducing the bill in the near future.
"To throw out just a few possible solutions, we could cap the number of H-1B visas any single employer can apply for. We could do multiple waves of lotteries. We could require additional attestations that an employer tried to fill a job with an American worker but was unable to do so," he said.
"We could create a shot clock, so that a visa expires and goes back into the lottery pool if it's not used within a certain period. We could also ease some of the pressure on H-1B visas by streamlining the process for green cards. After all, that's the end goal for many of these workers," he said, adding these are just a few of many possible solutions.
Hutch said he is also mindful of the angst many in the tech community feel about the President's draft executive order on foreign worker visas.
"I will work with the President on this and that I will do my part if you will do yours. That includes not provoking the White House unnecessarily," he said.
As one of the earliest Senators to endorse Trump, Hutch said he can serve as a bridge between the President and the tech community.
"I spent nearly an hour in the Oval Office with him last month. Help me help you work with the President to accomplish our shared goals," he said.
Tech industry leaders applauded Hatch's agenda, which focuses on creating high-paying jobs, growing the economy, invigorating the American workforce, strengthening intellectual property protections, enhancing privacy, and reforming the US immigration system.
"We need strong, forward-looking policies that enhance economic growth and create new opportunities for more Americans to participate in that growth. Senator Hatch's agenda provides clear rules-of-the road to govern privacy in the digital age, enhance our workforce, and promote innovation," said Brad Smith, president Microsoft.
Michael Beckermen, president and CEO, of the Internet Association said the Internet industry applauds Hatch and the Senate Republican High-Tech Task Force for their leadership on putting forth a robust agenda.
"Hatch has been the most important ally the US technology sector has in Washington. He continues to demonstrate his expertise on the critical issues that promote strong US growth and job creation with his Innovation Agenda. We are fortunate to have his leadership and his friendship," said Safra Catz, CEO Oracle.
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