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Draft bill would boost H-1B worker pay for big visa users

Patrick Thibodeau | June 13, 2016
Rep. Lofgren’s proposal, which has not yet been introduced, details pay formula and other visa system changes.

Pay for H-1B workers may increase significantly if a draft bill authored by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) gets the bipartisan backing it will need to pass Congress.

The bill primarily relies on salary to distribute the visas. Firms that pay salaries well above the prevailing wage will have the best chance of getting a visa.

Lofgren has been working with Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.), whose support in the GOP-controlled House is critical. The measure is now being distributed to stakeholders for feedback.

The "High-Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act of 2015" has been in the works since last year, is already drafted and appears to be complete. But that doesn't mean it will actually be introduced. Both sides continue to talk and there are no immediate plans to move forward on the legislation.

(To read the official summary of the bill, download the PDF.)

The H-1B visa is currently distributed via a lottery because requests for visas routinely exceed the annual 85,000-visa cap. While the bill doesn't eliminate the lottery in its entirety, it minimizes its importance.

The proposal is designed to encourage employers to pay 150% or 200% of the prevailing wage level. These employers will probably be assured of visa approval.

The prevailing wage system has four levels. Level 1 is for entry level; level 4 for the most experienced and capable employees. Prevailing wages vary widely nationally, depending on location.

In Gainesville, Fla., for instance, the prevailing wage for a level 4 computer programmer is $67,621. In San Francisco, it's $123,885.

A level 4 salary that is 200% of prevailing wage for a programmer in Gainesville would be $135,242. In San Francisco, it would be $247,770. (For prevailing wage information see the Foreign Labor Certification Data Center.)

The San Francisco employer doesn't gain an advantage over the Gainesville employer in the visa distribution because of the higher pay differential. What's important is a company's willingness to pay a percentage above the prevailing wage.

And wages alone don't set a priority in the visa distribution. Priority is given first to employers "that hire mainly U.S. workers." Next in line are H-1B dependent employers.

There are different thresholds for determining dependency, but for large users a dependent employer is someone with 15% or more of their employees on temporary visas.

The legislation sets aside 20% of the annual allocation of H-1B visas to firms with 50 or fewer employees. Small and start-up businesses would not be subject to the wage-based allocation.


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