Washington, D.C. – The House Judiciary Committee today approved by voice vote bipartisan legislation to protect American jobs by reforming a high-skilled visa program.

The Protect and Grow American Jobs Act (H.R. 170) – introduced by Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet Subcommittee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) – reforms the H-1B visa category to help prevent the outsourcing of American jobs.  The H-1B program was created by Congress to help grow the economy by granting temporary visas to highly-skilled professionals.  While reforms to the program were made nearly 20 years ago, they need to be updated to close loopholes that now exist that contribute to the displacement of American workers.  The Protect and Grow American Jobs Act makes changes to the visa program to prevent H-1B dependent employers from bringing in foreign workers to replace American workers at low salaries that undermine the wages of American workers.

Subcommittee Chairman Issa and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) praised today’s Committee approval of the Protect and Grow American Jobs Act in the statements below.

Subcommittee Chairman Issa: “Highly skilled individuals that come to America through the H-1B visa program add tremendous value to the U.S. economy. We have a responsibility to ensure this important program isn’t being abused by those misusing it to outsource jobs and undercut American workers. Unfortunately, the loopholes left open in H-1B have allowed a small handful of companies to game the system and crowd out employers who need the limited slots available to bring in the best and brightest individuals from around the world. The Protect and Grow American Jobs Act is a common-sense update that will go a long way to protecting American workers while helping companies have better access to the talent they need to grow their businesses and create new jobs here in America.”

Chairman Goodlatte: “Our immigration programs must put American workers and our nation’s interests first, and unfortunately that is not the case currently with the H-1B visa program. The Protect and Grow American Jobs Act makes much-needed reforms to the H-1B program to curtail abuse of the system and protect American workers.  I thank Representative Issa for his work on this legislation and urge a vote on it by the House of Representatives.”

The Problem: Under the changes made to the H-1B visa program in 1998, H-1B-dependent companies – generally, companies whose workforces are composed of 15% or more of H-1B workers – must promise to recruit for U.S. workers before petitioning for H-1B workers and hire all qualified Americans who apply. They must also not lay-off U.S. workers (or have their client companies do so) and replace them with H-1B workers within a certain time frame. H-1B dependent employers can avoid these two requirements if their H-1B workers are paid at least $60,000 annually or hold master’s or higher degrees.

The $60,000 figure, when enacted in 1998, was higher than the wage paid to the average American worker in fields such as computer science. Since the $60,000 level has never been adjusted for inflation, it is now little more than half of what the average American worker makes. It no longer serves as a valid justification for H-1B dependent companies to not have to comply with the no lay-off and recruitment of U.S. worker requirements.

The no lay-off requirement established in 1998 is itself flawed in that it only protects American workers from lay-offs for 90 days after an employer files an H-1B petition.  However, today the vast majority of H-1B workers don’t even begin work until after this 90 day period has ended – so the no lay-off protection is illusory.

The Solution: The Protect and Grow American Jobs Act makes a number of changes to protect American workers.

The bill prohibits H-1B dependent employers from replacing American workers with H-1B employees – there are no longer any exceptions. It also lengthens the no-layoff policy for H-1B dependent employers and their client companies for as long an H-1B employee works at the company, which means they cannot layoff equivalent U.S. workers.

For H-1B dependent employers to be exempted from the requirement that U.S. workers be recruited first, the Protect and Grow American Jobs Act dramatically increases the salary requirements for H-1B workers. They must pay the lower of $135,000—which is indexed for inflation—or the average wage for the occupation in the area of employment, but with a floor of $90,000.

The bill also strengthens the Department of Labor’s enforcement arsenal to ensure that H-1B dependent employers abide by the rules.