Report | Immigration

The H-1B and L-1 Visa programs: Out of Control

Briefing Paper #280

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For several years, Congress has debated revising high-skill immigration policies as part of larger comprehensive immigration reform legislation. An important consideration is what to do about two major high-skill guest worker programs, the H-1B and L-1 visa programs, which account for an estimated 1 million guest workers.

Both of these visa programs need immediate and substantial overhaul. The goals of the H-1B and L visa programs have been to bring in foreign workers who complement the U.S. workforce. Instead, loopholes in both programs have made it too easy to bring in cheaper foreign workers, with ordinary skills, who directly substitute for, rather than complement, workers already in the country. They are clearly displacing and denying opportunities to U.S. workers.

The loopholes also provide an unfair competitive advantage to companies specializing in offshore outsourcing, undercutting companies that hire American workers. For at least the past five years nearly all of the employers receiving the most H-1B and L-1 visas are using them to offshore tens of thousands of high-wage, high-skilled American jobs.

Offshoring through the H-1B program is so common that it has been dubbed the “outsourcing visa” by India’s former commerce minister.

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