Groups take action against H-1B program expansion

Immigration and professional groups have filed a lawsuit to block the Homeland Security Department's recent expansion of a program allowing foreign information technology students to work for a longer period in the United States.

On May 29, the Immigration Reform Law Institute and other plaintiffs asked the U.S. District Court in New Jersey to declare unlawful DHS' recent interim regulation expanding the Optional Training Period for foreign IT students from 12 months to 29 months. During the training period, foreign students with math and science degrees from U.S. schools are allowed to work in the United States.

The other plaintiffs are the Programmers Guild, American Engineering Association, and several individuals.

Supporters for extending the Optional Training Period to 29 months say it provides benefits similar to those of expanding the number of H-1B visas available for foreign workers. During the training period, many of the foreign students apply for the H-1B visas.

The H-1B visa program is popular among federal contractors, who say it helps American competitiveness by allowing them to hire foreign computer programmers to fill job vacancies. However, H-1B visas are controversial among American workers because a surplus of foreign workers tends to reduce wages.
Under current law, the H-1B visa program allows 65,000 foreign skilled workers to work in the United States each year. In the past five years, thousands of applicants have been turned down for the H-1B visas because of excess demand.
The institute said it opposes expansion of the training period for students because ? contrary to its original intent ? it is serving as a form of guest worker program. Furthermore, institute members say the students are competing directly for jobs with American workers.

"Immigration law is very clear that student visas are for students to come to the U.S. solely and temporarily for study. Instead, DHS invented its own guest worker program to circumvent the annual H-1B visa cap," Mike Hethmon, general counsel for the institute, said in a news release.

Furthermore, Secretary Michael Chertoff was wrong to implement the new interim regulation as an emergency measure because it did not allow for any public input into the decision, Hethmon said.

The DHS ruling is likely to result in training benefits for foreign workers and denial of jobs to American workers, said John Miano, an advocate for computer programmers, who is assisting the institute.

"These are not jobs that Americans won't do or cannot be trained to do. Rather, these are desirable computer programming and engineering jobs that are being denied to U.S. workers with the complicity of the federal government," Miano said in the release.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

Reader Comments

Thu, Mar 3, 2011 Bob Oregon

In my life time I have seen the importation of foreign workers destroy the ability of the young, lower, middle class to work hard, get a good education, and better themselves with good technical jobs. Some one should remind Bill gates that not everyone is born with a silver spoon in his mouth and that our government is supposed to represent the citizens of the United States of American not surplus foreign labor or greedy US Companies.

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