Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio said Wednesday the H-1B visa program should be reformed to protect the jobs of American workers, but none of those protections are included in a Senate bill he’s sponsoring to expand the program.
“We need to add reforms,” the Florida senator said in the CNBC Republican primary debate Wednesday night. “Not just increase the numbers, but add reforms.”
Rubio is sponsoring a bill known as “I-squared” that would triple the number of temporary guest workers businesses can hire on H-1B visas. It does not include any of the reforms Rubio mentioned in the debate, or really any meaningful protections for American workers.
Rubio did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“If you get caught abusing the [H-1B] program, you should never be able to use it again,” Rubio said, adding that businesses should have to advertise a potential H-1B job for 180 days and prove they’re not going to pay an H-1B worker more than they would an American worker for the job.
The stated intent of the visa program is to help companies bring in high-skilled foreign workers for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs Americans can’t fill. But some companies including Disney, Southern California Edison, Fossil Group and Catalina Marketing, are allegedly using it to cut labor costs.
Disney laid off hundreds of Rubio’s constituents in January and allegedly blacklisted them from employment at other Disney-solicited contractors, after Disney forced them to train their foreign replacements. Several of the workers filed official complaints with the Department of Labor, spurring an ongoing investigation into Disney and other companies’ alleged abuse of the H-1B visa program.
After Rubio essentially ignored the story about his constituents for about two months, a spokeswoman from his Senate office told The Daily Caller News Foundation in June he’s “concerned” about the reports, and that those who abuse the program should face consequences. But Rubio did not join Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson‘s call for an investigation specifically into Disney.
Rubio made it clear in the debate he accepts the tech industry’s unsubstantiated claim there is a shortage of Americans qualified for STEM jobs, and said the best way to address the H-1B problem is to address the so-called shortage so that businesses don’t demand access to foreign workers.
“The ideal scenario is to train Americans to do the work so we don’t have to rely on people from abroad,” Rubio said Wednesday.
The closest thing to a consideration of the interests of American workers in his I-squared bill is some funding and other “strengthening” measures for STEM education. But the reality of this shortage is in dispute.
Nearly 75 percent of Americans with STEM degrees are not working in STEM fields, according to Census data, and only 3.8 million Americans with STEM degrees actually hold STEM jobs.
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