A U.S. border Security agent, inspecting passport at the U.S. customs and Border Protection station. A concept photo for the Homeland Security, immigration and naturalization process.

A new legislation proposing major reforms in the H-1B work visas by giving priority to the US-educated foreign youths has been introduced in both the chambers of the US Congress. The bill, introduced a bipartisan group of lawmakers, could benefit Indian students already in the US.

The H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act, as introduced in the house of representatives and the senate, will require US Citizenship and Immigration Services to prioritize for the first time the annual allocation of H-1B visas.  The new system would ensure that the best and brightest students being educated in the US receive preference for an H-1B visa, including advanced degree holders, those being paid a high wage, and those with valuable skills, proponents of this major legislative reforms said.

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows the US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.

India accounts for the second largest number of foreign students in the US after China. There are more than 200,000 Indian students in the US.

On April 1, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said that the US received nearly 275,000 unique registration requests for the congressional mandated 85,000 H-1B visas for foreign technology professionals, of which more than 67 per cent are from India.

In the senate, it was introduced by Senators Chuck Grassley and Dick Durbin. In the House of Representatives, it was introduced by congressmen Bill Pascrell, Paul Gosar, Ro Khanna, Frank Pallone and Lance Gooden.

The legislation reinstates Congress’ original intent in the H-1B and L-1 visa programmes by increasing enforcement, modifying wage requirements and securing protection for both American workers and visa holders, the lawmakers said.

The legislation, among other things, explicitly prohibits the replacement of American workers by H-1B or L-1 visa holders, clarifying that working conditions of similarly employed American workers may not be adversely affected by the hiring of an H-1B worker, including H-1B workers who have been placed by another employer at the American worker’s worksite.

Specifically, the bill would prohibit companies with more than 50 employees, of which at least half are H-1B or L-1 holders, from hiring additional H-1B employees. The bill gives the US Department of Labor enhanced authority to review, investigate, and audit employer compliance with programme requirements, as well as to penalise fraudulent or abusive conduct.