Grassley plan for tougher H-1B enforcement revealed

The fight to raise the per country cap is getting complicated as companies lobby Congress for easier access to foreign workers

TechNet, an industry lobbying group, Wednesday released a letter signed by nearly 350 companies that calls on Congress to eliminate the per-country cap on green cards just as details of the latest US. Senate proposal come to light.

The TechNet letter was sent to six key lawmakers, including U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, and Sen. Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Grassley may be the most important person on the list.

The House passed a bill late last year by 389-to-15 that would eliminate the current per-country caps on green card holders.

Grassley put a hold on the bill in the Senate.

His strategy has been to not let the tech industry win a visa battle without giving up something in return.

According to newly disclosed details from a draft copy of Grassley's proposal, lifting the cap would require H-1B dependent employers to allow the U.S. Department of Labor to conduct annual audits of their visa use.

A company with 51 or more full-time workers, with 15% or more holding H-1B visas, is considered dependent on the visa. The audit plan would impact IT services and offshore firms that rely heavily on work visas.

The draft proposal limits annual audits to companies with more than 100 employees. It also calls on the government to "make available to the public an executive summary or report" describing the "general findings" of an audit.

H-1B enforcement activity is now conducted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees immigration laws. There is concern that the Labor Department may well be tougher than the DHS Citizenship and Immigration Service, though that requirement may not necessarily be a deal-breaker to an agreement.

Since the majority of tech workers come from India and China, the push to eliminate the per-country caps is an important goal for some larger tech firms, including Microsoft. These firms are unaffected by Grassley's audit provisions.

The U.S. makes 140,000 employment based green cards available each year, but it limits each country to 7% of the total.

This cap creates multi-year green card waits for Indian and Chinese workers, who may return home because they can't get permanent residency, say the tech firms.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

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