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cross posted on NoSlaves.com blog

Senator Bernie Sanders(I-VT) and Senator Chuck Grassley(R-IA) managed to get a increase in H-1B guest worker Visa fees attached to  H.R. 3043:  Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2008.

Applause

The Senate adopted by voice vote a Grassley-Sanders amendment, S.AMDT.3325 to the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill.  The amendment would increase fees on H-1B employers by $3,500.  About $3,000 of this fee increase would be targeted to $15,000 scholarships in math, science, engineering, and healthcare.  About $500 of the fee increase would be dedicated to the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Program.  No increase in H-1B visas was included in the amendment or the bill last night so the basic cap remains at 65,000.

Doesn't it make sense to charge a fee to those investing in temporary talent from abroad and use it to invest in permanent talent for the future here at home? - Senator Chuck Grassley

Previous background information from Sander's office on the amendment:

Support the Grassley-Sanders Amendment to Provide Scholarships in Math, Science, Engineering and Nursing by Increasing H-1B Visa Fees on Employers

Background

Employers argue that they need the H-1B visa program because of a claimed lack of qualified American professionals to fill job openings in science, technology, nursing, medicine and other skilled fields.  While the H-1B program might be argued to be a solution in the short-term, the long-term solution to this problem is to attract more academically-talented Americans to these fields.

What the Sanders Amendment Would Do:

The Sanders amendment (which already passed the Senate by a vote of 59-35 to the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill on May 24, 2007) would create a new American Competitiveness Scholarship program to enable the National Science Foundation to award merit-based scholarships of up to $15,000 per year to qualified individuals to pursue associate, undergraduate or graduate level degrees in mathematics, engineering, nursing, medicine, or computer science.  These scholarships would go to over 65,000 American students each year.

Scholarship

Currently, a $1,500 education and training fee is imposed for each H-1B petition filed by employers, but very little of this money is being spent on scholarships.

The new merit scholarship program under the Sanders amendment would be funded by imposing a $ 3,500 surcharge on employers who are already required to pay H-1B visa fees under current law. (For companies with 25 or fewer employees, the amount would be half that amount.)  As H-1B visas are valid for three years (with a three-year extension possible), this surcharge represents only a $2833.33 increase in the annual cost of an H-1B visa employee.

About $500 of this fee increase would be dedicated to the Jacob Javits Gifted & Talented Program and $3,000 would be dedicated to the American Competitiveness Scholarship Program.

Studies conclude H-1B Workers are paid less than U.S. workers

One recent study of H-1B visas in computer occupations showed that H-1B visa holders were paid, on average, $12,000 less than Americans in the same occupation.  The GAO has documented that some employers use H-1B workers because they will settle for lower wages than American workers.

The new H-1B surcharge in the Sanders amendment, therefore, represents just a small fraction of the annual salary savings that companies hiring H-1B visas realize.

Sanders Amendment would provide scholarships to 65,000 American students annually!

If H-1B visa are really a response to a lack of qualified American workers and not just a back-door way for big companies to bring in cheap foreign labor, then this amendment addresses that problem.  By asking companies who hire lower cost foreign workers in skilled professions to contribute just a small fraction of the wage savings they already realize, we can create a strong scholarship program that would attract America 's "best and brightest" to the very field where these shortages are said to exist.

Voting for this amendment gives companies access to the workers they say they need, but also provides over 65,000 American students with the opportunity to receive an education in math, science, technology and health care.

Senator Sanders Press Release:

WASHINGTON , October 23 - The Senate tonight overwhelmingly approved legislation by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) to create a scholarship fund for training American professionals.

American Competitiveness Scholarships would be funded by raising to $5,000 the current $1,500 fee that companies are charged to bring high-skilled workers to the United States .
Entrance Denied
"This initiative will give American workers a brighter future, discourage companies from displacing Americans from good-paying jobs, and help middle-income families struggling to send their kids to college," Sanders said.

Scholarships of up to $15,000 a year would go to students pursuing degrees in math, science, engineering, medicine, nursing and other professions. With the scholarships, he said, ''young Americans can get the education they need for these jobs, so employers don't have to go abroad.''

The visa program was intended to help fill a shortage of high-tech workers, but some companies have taken advantage of the program to replace American workers with foreigners willing to work for substantially lower wages.

Creating the scholarship fund with a surcharge on so-called H-1B visas, he said, "says to those companies that want expanded access to foreign professionals that they have to give something back to our country."  He added, "If companies can invest billions of dollars in China and India , it's about time that they invested in the future of the United States of America ."

Over the last six years, Sanders noted, the median household income for working-age in the United States has declined by about $2500.  Since President Bush was elected, nearly 5 million Americans have slipped into poverty; 3 million more have lost their pensions; and 8.6 million more have lost their health insurance.

Providing scholarships, Sanders said, "will preserve American competitiveness in the 21st century, and help middle-income families in this country who are struggling to send their kids to college."

The Grassley-Sanders Amendment was attached to a bill funding the Department of Labor.
veto
ACTION ITEM:  This bill still must go to conference and Bush is threatening a veto.

Senate conferees are: Harkin; Inouye; Kohl; Murray; Landrieu; Durbin; Reed; Lautenberg; Byrd; Specter; Cochran; Gregg; Craig; Hutchison; Stevens; Shelby; Domenici.

Please write your house leadership to support this amendment. Having amendments cuts in conference between the House and the Senate is possible and of course corporate lobbyists do not like this bill for it increases slightly their cheap labor supply in terms of cost.

Originally posted to BobOak on Mon Oct 29, 2007 at 12:21 PM PDT.

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