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Rep. Issa's bill on H-1B visas goes to committee vote today. Photo: Molly Riley / AP

California Rep. Darrell Issa's bill on H-1B visa allocations heads to its first committee vote Wednesday morning. The bill would make it more difficult for so-called "H-1B dependent" companies to obtain the work permits. Currently, companies with 15% or more employees using the visas are labeled as H-1B dependent.

Why it matters: The Trump administration has already taken aim at H-1B dependent companies that it sees as abusing the H-1B visa program, which currently allocates 85,000 visas annually for high-skilled workers. Issa's bill would be the first legislative step toward reforming visa eligibility — a move that India-based IT services firms say unfairly targets them.

The politics: In 2015, utility company Southern California Edison (in Issa's district) laid off nearly 500 IT workers after hiring two H-1B dependent outsourcing firms. Some laid-off workers said they had to train their visa-holding replacements — an anecdote that President Trump used on the campaign trail.

"We are happy to have additional workers brought in to fill gaps," Issa said. "What we don't want is where they clearly displace American workers for less money."

He added that India-based outsourcing firms would need to meet the new standards laid out in the "Protect and Grow American Jobs Act," including guaranteeing their hiring will not result in American layoffs.

The gritty details: In a deal struck with California Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the bill heading to a markup today includes a number of provisions for H-1B dependent firms. While the new bill would change the threshold for defining H-1B dependent employers — to those with at least 20% of their workforce using the visas from its current 15% — the proposal would also eliminate several other exemptions so the net impact would be broader.

Other provisions of the bill would:

  • Eliminate the exemption for H-1B workers with advanced degrees and increases the $60,000 minimum salary for an H-1B visa holder to $90,000 annually (and possibly more depending on a new formula accounting for the job classification and region).
  • Require certain H-1B employers to attest that they will not displace a U.S. worker during their entire employment, including employment with a third party (or consulting firm). Current law requires that attestation only 90 days prior and 90 days after the filing of an H-1B petition.
  • Require H-1B employers to submit a report summarizing the good faith efforts taken to recruit U.S. workers, the number of U.S. workers that applied for the job, and reasons why jobs were not offered to those candidates.
  • Require H-1B dependent employers to pay workers at least the average wage paid to other workers in the same occupational classification in the same area of employment.
  • Authorize the Labor Department to conduct at least five random investigations of H-1B dependent employers annually. H-1B dependent companies would be charged a new $495 fee to pay for the investigations.

The other side: India-based IT firms, most of which are classified as H-1B dependent firms, say the bill discriminates against them. "If you're looking at protecting American workers, we don't have a problem with these provisions applying to all companies," said NASSCOM president R. Chandrashekhar. "But these provisions are applicable only to a subset of companies and applicable in such a way that targets Indian companies"

Go deeper: Indian firms fight proposals to slash H-1B visas.

Watch today: The markup will be live-streamed here at 1pm ET.

Go deeper

1 hour ago - Health

CDC: It's time for "universal face mask use"

Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

The CDC is urging “universal face mask use” for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, citing recent case spikes as the U.S. has entered a phase of “high-level transmission” before winter officially begins.

Why it matters: Daily COVID-related deaths across the U.S. hit a new record on Wednesday. Face coverings have been shown to increase protection of the wearer and those around them, despite some Americans' reluctance to use them.

3 hours ago - World

Saudi Arabia and Qatar near deal to end standoff, sources say

Qatar's prime minister (R) attends the 2019 Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Saudi Arabia. Photo: Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are close to a deal to end the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf following U.S.-mediated reconciliation talks this week, sources familiar with the talks tell me.

Why it matters: Restoring relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar would bring a sense of stability back to the Gulf after a 3.5 year standoff. It could also notch a last-minute achievement for the Trump administration before Jan. 20.

House passes bill to decriminalize marijuana

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a longtime marijuana legalization advocate and co-sponsor of the bill. Photo: Pete Marovich For The Washington Post via Getty Images

The House on Friday voted 228-164 in favor of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, marking the first time a congressional chamber has voted in favor of decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level.

Why it matters: The Washington Post describes the bill as a "landmark retreat in the nation’s decades-long war on drugs," which has disproportionately affected people of color.