US tightens visa legislation

The US has introduced legislation that could set curbs on the use of the L-1 visa, a controversial work visa programme which,...

The US has introduced legislation that could set curbs on the use of the L-1 visa, a controversial work visa programme which, like the H-1B visa, allows US companies to bring in foreign workers.

The L-1 visa enables companies with subsidiaries abroad to transfer to the US from other companies executives or workers with specialised skills.

But critics contend that foreign outsourcing firms use it to import lower-paid workers who then replace higher-paid US employees. 

US politician John Mica called the L-1 visa a "back door to cheap labour" in his legislation. His bill would require that employees be transferred from their own subsidiaries and not from third-party outsourcers. 

The bill's intention is to block foreign outsourcing firms from using the visa to move foreign workers into US positions. But the legislation may face opposition. 

Mike Emmons, who said he lost his consulting job because of L-1 visa, lobbied Mica heavily for action on the visa and said he is disappointed with Mica's legislative fix.

Emmons said the legislation includes a large loophole that would allow a US company to set up shop in India or some other country, hire workers there and then move those employees here. 

However, Vic Goel, an immigration attorney who represents high-tech companies, said the legislation could prevent a multinational firm from bringing in foreign workers to help clients. For instance, the foreign workers may have played a key role in software development and are needed to implement, service and maintain the software. 

"The idea is to find a solution that promotes business and closes the door on the abusers," said Goel, explaining that such a solution could involve finding a way to differentiate between "project-based [work] versus simple provisioning of warm bodies to fill seats." 

According to Mica, there are more than 325,000 L-1 visa holders in the US. 

H-1B visas allows foreign workers to take jobs in the US for as long as six years. Someone with an L-1 visa can work in the US for up to seven years.

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