In sharp contrast to the Grassley-Durbin bill calling for some useful modifications of the H-1B program, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) have introduced legislation that would just about terminate the H-1B worker program, as they announced in a press release.
This is the most sweeping anti-H-1B legislation to be introduced into Congress in my memory.
Sessions, chair of the Senate's immigration subcommittee, has long been opposed to the H-1B program because it denies jobs to some U.S. workers and reduces wages for many others. Cruz, now a candidate for president, was, until recently, a champion of expanding the program.
In fact, during the 2013 debate on the Gang of Eight's "comprehensive immigration reform" bill, Cruz, at the committee level, introduced a failed amendment that would have boosted the ceilings on new H-1B admissions from 85,000 to 325,000, as I reported at the time.
The Cruz-Sessions bill is in harmony with the Texas senator's overall current immigration policy, hailed as "imperfect but a big step forward" by Mark Krikorian in a posting last month.
The Cruz-Sessions legislation, the American Jobs First Act of 2015 (S.2394), would set a minimum wage of $110,000 a year for new H-1Bs, which would seriously dampen employers' interest in the program, as they usually pay much less than that for their H-1B workers, usually young college grads from India and China. (See the bill's text here.)
It would also force employers to observe a 730-day "cooling off" period before they could use the H-1B program to replace laid-off, furloughed, or striking U.S. workers. And it would simply end the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, another foreign-worker program involving recent alien college grads, a program that often dovetailed with H-1B. (There is no training involved in OPT, it is just a program for inexpensive foreign workers, with their employers being excused from paying payroll taxes when they hire these alien workers.)
The bill would also repeal the Diversity Visa Lottery, which grants green cards to about 50,000 randomly selected people from any country not among the top sending countries. (The top beneficiaries in 2014 were Nepal, Egypt, and Uzbekistan, with more than 3,000 green cards each.)
In contrast to the black-and-white Cruz-Sessions legislation, the Grassley-Durbin legislation is sketched in varying shades of grey, as we outlined in three earlier postings, starting with this one. The Grassley-Durbin proposal would make a series of modest improvements in both the H-1B program and in the somewhat similar L-1 program (for employees of multi-national firms working in the United States).