Putting the American worker first
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One thing is clear: the United States’ immigration policy should serve first and foremost the interests of the American worker.

When I came to Congress, the promise I made to my constituents was to examine where our immigration laws are falling short. This was the same message Donald TrumpDonald TrumpDem senator: Pardoning targets of Russia probe would be 'crossing a fundamental line' Trump lawyers looking into special counsel's potential conflicts of interest: reports Trump lawyers asking about presidential pardon powers: report MORE carried during his presidential campaign: Our laws should always put the American worker first.

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The current system for H-1B visa workers does not put the interests of our country first, and rampant abuses to the system leave the American worker standing on the sidelines and often underemployed. During a time of heightened political divides, this is an issue both Democrats and Republicans in Congress can agree needs to be addressed.

Too often, companies capitalize on the loopholes in our immigration system to displace high-skilled American workers in search of cheap labor. I applaud the announcement of President Trump’s America First policy to return more American jobs to American workers by rooting out fraud, identifying necessary reforms and punishing companies exploiting the system for their own financial gain.

Last month, I helped introduce bipartisan legislation with Reps. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Paul GosarPaul GosarFresh Freedom Caucus demands stall GOP budget Defense bill amendments would protect, curb enlistment program for immigrants with in-demand skills 'My Facebook, my property': House Republican defends blocking people MORE (R-Ariz.) to make specific and targeted changes to the H-1B visa program. Our bill aligns with the goals of President Trump’s new policy. To put the American worker first, our legislation modifies wage requirements, grants investigative authority to the Departments of Homeland Security and Labor to find abuses and creates more defined allotment categories to prioritize STEM workers.

Like many things the federal government touches, the H-1B visa system is laudable in its goals, but it misses the mark.

An estimated 40 percent of recent college graduates in our country are underemployed. And under the H-1B visa process, 80 percent of those in our country under the program make less than the median salary for their positions.

The outrage from laid-off American tech workers has been muted because companies frequently require employees to sign nondisclosure forms prohibiting them from criticizing their employers in exchange for severance pay. Last year, employees at Disney filed in federal court to sue outsourcing companies that contracted with American companies to supplant Americans with H-1B workers.

And just last month, 60 Minutes aired an episode entitled “You’re Fired” that highlighted how the H-1B visa program is working against the American worker. The episode told the story of Robert Harrison, an engineer at a medical center in San Francisco. Last October, he was told along with 80 of his IT coworkers that they were being fired and replaced with international workers. These American workers were asked to train their replacements and promised generous bonuses.

The American worker should be allowed to compete for positions before a company outsources the jobs to a foreign worker with an H-1B visa. The purpose of our immigration laws should be to protect the interests of our country and promote a thriving economy and productive citizens. Instead, the H-1B system has created an entire industry of foreign workers coming to the United States to be trained, and then the role is outsourced back to their country of origin for drastically lower wages. This practice eliminates many traditional entry-level positions for technical professionals in the United States.

The election of Donald Trump was a story about the forgotten man. It is the story of the high-skilled American worker being laid off then asked to train his replacement who is in our country on an H-1B visa. It is the story of the American Dream that seems increasingly more difficult to chase because the cards are stacked against the American worker.

Workforce participation in the United States is at a 40-year low. Once, America was seen as the place where anyone could get ahead if you played by the rules, yet too often I hear from my constituents a sense of cynicism and discouragement. We need renewed optimism that our economy is not one where just the cronies and special interests get ahead, but that everyone has an equal shot at the American Dream.

I taught economics for twenty years, but before that I worked at the World Bank. While there, I worked to promote global economic growth and welfare. Ultimately, the H-1B system does not just harm the American worker, but also underpays and exploits foreign workers. We need a better system that recognizes the value of the immigrant workforce in our country’s economy yet doesn’t exploit them.

Now Congress has the opportunity to act in a bipartisan manner to make significant targeted changes to the H-1B visa program. With a Republican in the White House and countless members of both political parties cognizant of protecting the American worker, let’s make these reforms finally happen.

Brat represents Virginia’s 7th District and is a member of the Education and the Workforce Committee.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.