President Barack Obama plans to take unilateral action to “make it easier” for global companies to send guest workers to the United States, he announced Monday.
The action could benefit “hundreds of thousands” of new guest workers, who would be competing with American workers for jobs.
“My administration is going to reform the L-1B visa category, which allows corporations to temporarily move workers from a foreign office to a U.S. office in a faster, simpler way,” he said in a speech Monday to a global investors summit at the Gaylord National Convention Center in Maryland. “And this could benefit hundreds of thousands of nonimmigrant workers and their employers.”
The L-1B visa allows foreign companies who plan to start an office in the U.S. to send “specialized knowledge employees” to the states for between 3 and 7 years to start an office. And it allows U.S. companies with foreign offices to transfer workers from those offices to offices in the states.
The stated goal of the program is to incentivize companies to invest in the U.S., but businesses have started using the program to replace American workers with dramatically cheaper foreign workers. A 2006 Inspector General report found the program riddled with abuse, and recommended Congress take action to protect American workers.
The definition of “specialized knowledge” is so broad, almost any foreign worker can get the visa. Businesses can legally pay that worker any wage they want, so long as it meets the minimum wage requirement in that state, and they do not have to pay any kind of payroll taxes.
“There are no protections at all for American workers, or for the L-1B workers themselves,” Ron Hira, a professor at Rochester Institute of Technology who is an expert in offshore outsourcing and industrial policy, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. A typical IT worker in India might make $5,000 a year, so a business could replace an American worker with that foreign worker and make a huge profit.
“Expanding the L-1B program will have exactly the opposite effect than the one President Obama claims,” he said. “Instead of attracting and creating jobs for Americans through foreign direct investment, his proposal will speed up the offshoring and destruction of good middle class jobs.”
Obama made the announcement moments after he boasted about working with Republicans on trade deals that would “put American workers first.”
In 2010, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services received more than 91,086 applications for these specific guest worker visas, and approved 74,719 of them. The U.S. admits another 700,000 temporary foreign workers and 1 million permanent immigrants each year.
Obama’s unspecified action would apparently up those numbers significantly.
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