Sens. Sherrod Brown and Joe Manchin will co-sponsor a bipartisan amendment to the immigration reform package before the Senate that would require employers to give hiring preference to American workers before seeking a special visa for foreign nationals.
Brown, D-Ohio, and Manchin, D-W.Va., are joined by Republican co-sponsors Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Jeff Sessions of Alabama in introducing the legislation, known as the H-1B and L-1 Visa Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act of 2013. The bill would require employers to offer positions to qualified American workers before seeking a visa for a skilled foreign worker, and also would require them to advertise openings for at least 30 days before applying for such a visa.
"We need to make sure that foreign workers aren't being hired at the expense of American workers," Brown said.
In most cases, an H-1B visa allows a foreign national to remain in the United States for a maximum of six years without applying for permanent resident status. Employers that have pushed for the program's expansion, many of them in the technology sector, claim they can't find enough Americans who possess the highly specialized skill sets they require.
"I'm a little more skeptical of that," Brown said. "I think they should be giving preference to American workers who are equally skilled and trained."
Brown also believes many employers use the H-1B program to hire foreign workers at significantly lower wages than they would pay to a similarly qualified American. The Brown-Grassley amendment, however, would require companies pay prevailing wage to such visa holders.
Although Senate leaders expect to pass an immigration bill by July 4, the GOP-led House is being more deliberate in crafting its own reform package that includes stricter border enforcement and crackdowns on illegal immigrants already here that aren't likely to be included in the Senate version.
Proponents of the Senate bill say it provides those workers a pathway to citizenship without allowing them to gain citizenship before those who went through official channels, but opponents say the bill is too soft and amounts to amnesty for criminals. One Georgia lawmaker, Republican Rep. Paul Broun, even said he would not support any immigration reform package that doesn't make English the United States' official language.
Despite the apparent deep divide in Congress on the issue, Brown is confident the Senate's version ultimately will move forward.
"This bill will pass with strong bipartisan support," Brown predicted. "That sends a message to the House of Representatives that they should act. I think the business community, whether it's in Belmont County or Toledo, want to see an immigration bill. They want to see this system fixed. ... There will be enough pressure from business, labor and community groups that they understand that they need to fix it. If (House Speaker John) Boehner brings it up for a floor vote, I have no doubt it will pass."