Fri | Feb 3, 2023

UNITED STATES - Five things to know about US guest worker programmes

Published:Monday | July 7, 2014 | 12:00 AM


Five things to know about the H-1B visas and protection guidelines regarding American workers:


The law doesn't specifically say H-1B workers can't replace Americans, but it does include some protections, particularly when it comes to companies deemed 'H-1B dependent', those where 15 per cent or more of their US workers are H-1B visa holders. Those companies can't replace American workers until the H-1B employees have been on the job 90 days.


The H-1B dependent firms also must recruit Americans before bringing in foreign workers. However, these requirements are rarely enforced. And many people never learn why they were passed over for a position, or who got the job they applied for.


The guest workers are supposed to be paid the 'prevailing wage' for whatever job they take, in whatever city they work. But the job descriptions listed on the H-1B petitions are vague enough to give employers wiggle room. The government also allows firms leeway in calculating prevailing wages. They can use government data or private industry surveys. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat who represents Silicon Valley, found in 2011 that computer-systems analysts working on H-1B visas in her district could be paid a prevailing wage of $52,000 a year, versus the local average computer analyst wage of $92,000.


Government oversight of the H-1B program is limited and fragmented between half a dozen agencies, making it difficult to enforce legal provisions meant to protect American workers.


Companies that want to bring in foreign workers have additional options, including the L-1 and B-1 visas, both of which are unlimited. The L-1 visas allow global companies to transfer workers to the US without paying US salaries. The B-1 visas are supposed to allow foreigners to attend conferences and seminars in the US, but federal prosecutors say companies have used them to get around the limit on H-1B work visas. The government also issues an unlimited number of work visas to foreign college students and recent graduates for jobs in their area of study. Those in tech and sciences can work in the United States for more than two years with no minimum salary.