Bill Seeks Limit On Hiring Foreign Bank Workers

Bill seeks limits on hiring foreign bank workers

By Rita Beamish and Frank Bass
The Associated Press, February 4, 2009

Two senators on Wednesday proposed requiring bailed-out banks to hire only Americans for one year, after an investigation by The Associated Press showed that banks receiving the most federal aid had requested visas for thousands of foreign workers even as they laid off employees amid the economic collapse.

The legislation by Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, would apply to more than 200 banks that have accepted the government's aid. They would be barred from hiring foreigners who hold special visas that are reserved for certain skilled and advanced-degree jobs. Both senators are longtime critics of abuses they see in the visa program.

'It is obscene and vulgar for these huge banks getting taxpayer bailouts to use the bailouts to throw American workers on the street and bring in foreign workers,' Sanders said.

The proposal was certain to inflame all sides of an already contentious issue that has attracted new passion amid soaring U.S. unemployment rates. An immigration lawyers group earlier this week warned of renewed criticism of the H1-B visa program due to the country's lousy economic conditions and rallied its members in an e-mail to be prepared to 'set the record straight!'

The president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Charles Kuck, whose members represent employers and foreign nationals, said the Senate proposal would hinder any economic recovery.

'You're telling banks, we want you to be successful, we'll loan you money to stay in business but we're not going to allow you to hire people to make that happen if they happen to be foreign nationals,' Kuck told the AP. 'Is this not the ultimate in protectionism?'

Sanders said banks accepting U.S. government bailout money should first attempt to hire the many laid-off American banking workers, although other industries may need the visa program for shortages in specific skilled positions.

Prospects for the legislation's passage were not immediately clear. The proposal was being filed as an amendment to the stimulus bill under consideration in the Senate as part of President Barack Obama's plan to reinvigorate the economy.

Sanders said the legislation was proposed in response to an AP investigation showing that the dozen banks now receiving the biggest rescue packages, totaling more than $150 billion, requested visas for more than 21,800 foreign workers over the past six years for high-paying jobs.

Even as the economic collapse worsened last year with huge numbers of U.S. bank employees laid off the numbers of visas sought by the dozen banks in AP's analysis increased by nearly one-third, from 3,258 in the 2007 budget year to 4,163 in fiscal 2008.

The AP reviewed visa applications the banks filed with the Labor Department under the H-1B visa program, which allows temporary employment of foreign workers in specialized-skill and advanced-degree positions. Such visas are most often associated with high-tech workers.

It is unclear how many foreign workers the banks hired; the government does not release those details. The government limits to 85,000 the H-1B visas each year among all U.S. employers. The banks also hire uncounted foreign workers through contract companies and those visa numbers don't show up in the banks' applications to the government.