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Senate Approves Strict Rules on Hiring H1-B Workers
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The U.S. Senate agreed on Friday to set restrictions on the hiring of H-1B workers by financial services firms that receive federal bailout funds, but it didn't bar the hiring of foreign workers as proponents had sought.

U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) had proposed legislation this week to prohibit any firm that received money under the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) from hiring foreign workers.

The amendment, part of the stimulus plan being debated in the Senate, didn't include a blanket restriction on H-1B use and instead set a series of strict standards on H-1B hiring.

The Senate's amendment would require companies receiving TARP funds, mostly financial services firms with a lot of bad mortgages, to comply with hiring rules set for "H-1B dependent" firms -- those with more than 15% of their workers on H-1B visas.

Any firm receiving TARP funds will be automatically considered H-1B dependent, regardless of the percentage of H-1B workers on the payroll.

The H-1B dependent designation subjects employers to a number of provisions, including a good faith effort to hire U.S. workers first.

Sen. Grassley said in a statement late Friday that the modified bill means companies receiving TARP funds would still be able to hire H-1B visa holders, but would have to comply with the "H-1B dependent"-employer rules "which include attesting to actively recruiting American workers; not displacing American workers with H-1B visa holders; and not replacing laid off American workers with foreign workers."

"Hiring American workers for limited available jobs should be a top priority for businesses taking taxpayer money through the TARP bailout program," Sen. Grassley said.

"With the unemployment rate at 7.6 percent, there is no need for companies to hire foreign guest workers through the H1-B program when there are plenty of qualified Americans looking for jobs," Sen. Grassley said.

Both Sen. Grassley and Sen. Sanders argue that U.S. firms have a moral obligation to protect U.S. workers' jobs.

This amendment may be tougher than the existing law. There are now exceptions to the H-1B dependency rule for foreign workers who are paid at least $60,000 in base wages or who have advanced degrees -- but those exceptions don't appear in the amendment. It is thus believed that the companies affected by this proposed law would be unlikely to hire H-1B workers.

The fate of this H-1B amendment rests on the fate of the stimulus bill before the Senate today, and if that's approved it will head to a conference where other changes are possible.

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