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House lawmakers work to replace the hated H-1B lottery

Patrick Thibodeau | May 18, 2016
Employers who offer generous salaries will be first in line to hire foreign workers.

The bill's authors hope that the legislation raises wages, overall, for H-1B workers. Fully half of the H-1B workers -- 52% -- are paid Level 1 wages, and 30% get Level 2 wages, according to a Government Accountability Office study.

This salary ranking approach mlight not eliminate the lottery in its entirety. Some percentage of visa petitions may offer similar salaries near the bottom of the distribution list. A lottery might be used to allocate those visas.

The bill would also raise the $60,000 salary that creates an exemption for H-1B dependent firms (mostly IT services firms that offshore work). The new wage level hasn't been set. H-1B-dependent firms can displace U.S. workers, provided they pay at least that wage. A master's degree also creates an exemption, but that would be eliminated.

Raising the $60,000 salary threshold might still leave the non-displacement exemption in place.

"The simpler fix would be to make all employers -- in all cases -- abide by good faith recruiting and non-displacement" rules, said Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at Howard University.

The bill also envisions eliminating per-country caps on green cards for advanced degree holders. The government sets a cap of 140,000 employment-based green cards a year, with no more than 7% from any single country. This has lead to long waiting times for people from China and India, where demand is the highest.

The reaction to any of these changes remains to been seen. Industry and visa critics will want to see details. Moreover, the Senate has been very active on H-1B issues, and lawmakers there have their own ideas and conflicts about what should be in a visa bill.


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