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For Immediate Release

Statement of Senator Christopher J. Dodd
Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security
The L1 Visa and American Interests in the 21st Century Global Economy

July 29, 2003

Mr. Chairman, Senator Kennedy, members of the Subcommittee, thank you for permitting me to testify on such short notice before this Subcommittee, on the very important topic of the "L1 Visa and American Interests in the 21st Century Global economy." I want to express my appreciation to you, Mr. Chairman, for the courtesy you have extended to me.

I would say at the outset that I strongly believe that citizens from other nations have made and will continue to make enormous contributions to our country. We are, after all, a nation that was founded by immigrants.

And, we have remained vibrant and creative because our doors have remained open to "supplement" the talents of a very gifted and skilled American work force.

I would emphasize the word "supplement," Mr. Chairman. And note that I did not say, "substitute."

I am sure that none of us believes that American workers should be treated as 'second class citizens' when it comes to the security of their jobs here at home -- and that security should not be jeopardized by U.S. government programs and policies related to the temporary employment of certain nonimmigrant visa holders. At the very least, laws enacted by Congress should ensure that workers living in Connecticut and elsewhere throughout America confront a level playing field when competing for jobs.

No member of Congress would knowingly support government programs that cause American workers to lose their jobs. Nor do I mean to suggest that this is the stated purpose of the L-1 visa program that is the subject of this hearing.

The stated purpose of the L-1 program is to allow for intra-company transfers of certain executives, managers, and individuals with specialized skills from foreign offices of companies to their U.S. operations -- on a temporary basis.

During the economic boom of the 1990's, when jobs were easy to find, evidence now suggests that abuses of L-1 and H-1B visas often went unchecked. But the state of the job market has changed. Massive layoffs have occurred at companies large and small, and it is now takes months for laid-off workers to find new jobs. The unemployment rate is now over 6%.

There is clearly a growing body of anecdotal evidence to suggest that both the L-1 and H-1B visa programs have been -- and are being -- misused by some employers because of weaknesses in existing law and implementing regulations, and because of ineffective or absent government enforcement.

Between 1997 and 2002 some 3.4 million H-1B and L-1 visas were approved by U.S. immigration authorities - 70,000 of those visa holders have been employed in Connecticut. The L-1 visa program has grown significantly during that time period: From 203,000 visas issued in 1997 to nearly 314,000 visas in 2002. This growth in visa approvals has occurred while domestic unemployment has risen in the latter portion of that time period.

One of the witnesses who the committee will hear from this afternoon will give additional credibility to the belief that at least some employers have not hesitated to take advantage of weaknesses in the L-1 visa program to replace American workers with lower cost L-1 visa holders.

I have come to the conclusion that it is time for Congress to take a serious look at the L-1 and H-1B visa programs and to propose remedies for the offensive weaknesses in those programs - weaknesses that are hurting our citizens. I hope these hearings today are but the first step in that process.

I sought to take some steps of my own in that direction on Thursday, July 24th, with the introduction of S. 1452 - the U.S.A. Jobs Protection Act of 2003.

I was very pleased to be joined in that effort by one of my Connecticut colleagues in the House -- Congresswoman Nancy Johnson, who introduced the House companion bill on the same day.

Once enacted into law, the U.S.A. Jobs Protection Act of 2003 would ensure that the L-1 visa program is utilized for the purposes for which it was originally intended and that was not to displace American workers with lower cost foreign visa holders. My bill would also tighten the law with respect to the H-1B visa program, which is not the subject of the hearing this afternoon.

What does the bill do?

First, it would end the practice of allowing L-1 visa holders to be subcontracted by one employer to another. This has become a growing feature of this program.

It also takes away a big incentive for replacing American workers with L-1 visa holders by requiring that these new workers be paid the prevailing wage.

It requires that before a U.S. employer seeks to bring in a specialized worker from a foreign affiliate of his or her company, that a documented, good faith effort must have been made to fill the position with an American worker.

Mr. Chairman, the L-1 visa program was established to allow companies to temporarily bring to the U.S., managers and executives with an institutional memory of the firm's practices and policies, to pass on that knowledge. I agree that such institutional expertise is invaluable to the success of a company's operations in the U.S.

But the individuals who are granted visas under this provision should have a well-established work history with the company to qualify for such a visa.

That is why I have included a provision in S. 1452 to require that individuals seeking L-1 visas must have been employed by the company seeking their transfer to the U.S., for two of the last three years, rather than the six month or one year time periods required by existing law.

I mentioned earlier that there is a growing body of anecdotal evidence that suggests that both the L-1 and H-1B visa programs are creating problems for certain categories of American workers. Why don't we have more hard data on this important issue? I would tell this committee that it is because there has been very little government oversight or enforcement of these programs - particularly the L-1 program.

I have attempted to address this deficiency. S. 1452 contains provisions that will require the Labor Department to oversee this program. It will finally provide the Labor Department with authority it currently lacks to investigate potential violators of the law and to impose sanctions.

The bill also makes a number of reforms in the H-1B visa program, which I will not go into this afternoon. I know that the Subcommittee has a number of witnesses it wishes to hear from this afternoon.

With the permission of the Subcommittee I would ask that a copy of S. 1452 and a summary of the bill be included in the record of the hearing.

Mr. Chairman, based upon the many Connecticut families I have heard from on this subject, together with the testimony you will hear today, I believe that the L-1 and H-1B visa programs have contributed to the growth in unemployment in Connecticut and elsewhere. It is within this committee's legislative responsibility to analyze the problems created by current law and practice, and to propose remedies.

As you do so, I would urge members to give consideration to S. 1452 as you think about what proposals you will make to fix problems with the L-1 and H-1B visa programs.

What is self-evident is that the status quo is not acceptable. American workers have a right to expect Congress to do what is necessary to protect their jobs - so that they will be able to continue to provide for their families. I intend to work to change the status quo with respect to the L-1 and H-1B programs. I look forward to cooperating with this subcommittee toward that end.

Thank you Mr. Chairman, Senator Kennedy, Members of the Committee.