Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who serves as the Ranking Member of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee, sent a letter to Pres. Obama telling him that Jennifer Wedel's story of her unemployed engineer husband is not an isolated case, but a wider, national issue. Sen. Grassley has consistently fought for unemployed high-skilled workers by writing legislation that would rid the H-1B program of known fraud and abuse.
In his letter, Sen. Grassley told Pres. Obama that the Administration's recent policy change to offer work permits to the spouses of H-1B workers and extend the period that recent foreign graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering and/or mathematics can work in the U.S. after graduation adversely affects America's high-skilled workers. He also urged the President to support a bill that he and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) are drafting to deal with the issues within the H-1B visa program.
Here's the full text of Sen. Grassley's letter to the President:
Dear Mr. President:
I read with interest news reports about your Google Plus “hangout” on January 30th, specifically your conversation with Ms. Jennifer Wedel. Ms. Wedel told of her husband’s personal struggle in trying to find employment despite the fact that he has an engineering degree and over ten years of experience. She expressed concern that the government continues to distribute H-1B visas at a time of record unemployment.
I was surprised to learn that you responded to Ms. Wedel by saying “industry tells me that they don’t have enough highly skilled engineers.” You also said that “the word we’re getting is that somebody in that kind of high-tech field, that kind of engineer, should be able to find something right away.” You said there’s a huge demand for engineers across the country, with which Ms. Wedel seemed to take issue. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) would also suggest otherwise. According to the BLS, the unemployment rate for electrical engineers rose 3.7% from 2006 to 2010.
Your response to Ms. Wedel leads me to believe that you don’t understand the plight of many unemployed high-skill Americans. Mr. Wedel’s situation is all too common. Thousands of qualified Americans remain out of work while companies are incentivized to import foreign workers. I’m concerned that you’re hearing only one side of the story -- from businesses who claim that there are better and brighter people abroad.
Despite your online chat and interest in investigating the problem, just last week, your administration proposed rules to “attract and retain highly skilled immigrants.” The Department of Homeland Security will expand the eligibility for foreign students to stay in the U.S. under the Optional Practical Training program. This program does not have U.S. worker protections, nor does it require that employers pay prevailing wages to these foreign students/employees. Your administration will also provide work authorizations to spouses of H-1B visa holders, thus increasing the competition for many Americans who are looking for work. It’s astonishing that, at this time of record unemployment, your administration’s solution is to grant more work authorizations to foreign workers. These initiatives will do very little to boost our economy or increase our competitiveness.
Nevertheless, I’m encouraged by your statement that “The H1-B should be reserved only for those companies who say they cannot find somebody in that particular field.” I have long believed that it’s not unreasonable to ask businesses to first determine if there are qualified Americans to fill vacant positions. It seems you may agree with this premise.
Therefore, I strongly encourage you to endorse legislation that I have cosponsored with Senator Durbin in the past. Our bill, which has been included in various comprehensive immigration reform proposals, warrants your leadership. With your help, we can reform the H-1B visa program and ensure that Americans like Mr. Wedel are on equal footing with foreign workers who are flooding the market.
While I’m glad that Mr. Wedel has been contacted by many employers since your online discussion took place, there are many more highly skilled Americans that need our help and attention. I hope you’ll work with me to make changes to the H-1B visa program on behalf of all these Americans.
I appreciate your consideration of my views.
-- Sen. Chuck Grassley, February 7, 2012
Updated: Wed, Feb 8th 2012 @ 9:52am EST