Pressure mounts for H-1B reform

He claimed that those loopholes actually lead more companies to ship jobs overseas and decrease wages for all workers.

But Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is a staunch advocate of the program and recommended re-examining the way the visas are distributed to put more emphasis on scientists, engineers and doctoral graduates.

"Foreign workers are receiving H-1B visas to work as fashion models, dancers and as chefs, photographers and social workers," Smith said in his prepared remarks.

"There is nothing wrong with those occupations, but I’m not sure that foreign fashion models and pastry chefs are as crucial to our success in the global economy as are computer scientists," Smith said.

Critics of the program point to a recent Government Accountability Office report showing the visas are disproportionately awarded to India-based staffing companies and other outsourcing firms rather than to innovative tech companies seeking additional skills.

There have also been reports of workers being mistreated or underpaid by their sponsoring firm and unable to change jobs lest they lose their visas.

Judiciary ranking member John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and other Democrats argued Thursday that rather than issuing more temporary visas, the U.S. should give more green cards to foreign students educated in the U.S.

The inability of math and science grads to remain in the country after earning their degrees is another frequently cited concern of the technology community. Conyers said visa holders should be able to transfer their status to another employer.

Hira and Conyers were both adamant that guest workers must be paid the same wages as their homegrown counterparts to prevent the system from being a source of cheap labor for U.S. tech firms.