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No replacement of laid-off staff by H-1B workers: US
Lalit K Jha in Washington
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February 14, 2009 15:11 IST

In what could be seen as a major blow to Indian IT professionals, the US Congress has prohibited banks and firms receiving federal bailout money from hiring people on H-1B visas in place of Americans laid off by them due to the economic meltdown.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association, which had earlier opposed the measure, described it on Friday as 'disappointing'.

It argued that this would prove to be counterproductive as it prevents the US companies to hire the best available global talent. The H-1B has mostly benefitted Indian techies.

The measure forms part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, popularly known as the stimulus bill.

The Act finally passed by the Congress - both the House of Representative and the Senate -- makes a provision of $787 billion for reviving the battered US economy.

As the banks have announced mass layoffs, the measure would effectively place a moratorium on the H-1B visa programme, Senator Bernie Sanders said in a statement.

The Independent Senator from Vermont, along with the Republican Senator from Iowa, Charles Grassley, moved such a proposal in the Senate as an amendment to the stimulus bill.

The measure, as finally approved by the Congress, would require the bailed-out banks to hire only Americans for two years unless they could prove they were not replacing laid-off Americans with guest workers, Sanders said.

With thousands of financial services workers unemployed, it is absurd for banks to claim they can't find qualified American workers," Sanders said.

"While we are suffering through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the very least we can do is to make sure that banks receiving a taxpayer bailout are not allowed to import cheaper labour from overseas while they are throwing American workers out on the street," he said.

In addition to banks, the Sanders-Grassley provision also restricts hiring of guest workers at any other firms that receive funds under the Troubled Asset Relief Programme or from emergency loans made by the Federal Reserve.

Meanwhile, American Immigration and Lawyers Association president Charles Kuck expressed disappointment over the inclusion of such a provision in the bill.

"The Association is greatly disappointed that Congress chose political expediency over sound policy by allowing this amendment to stand. The misguided signal it sends is that immigrants are part of the problem rather than an integral part of the solution," Kuck said.

"The stimulus bill looks helpful but is counterproductive when it restricts financial industry's access to top-flight global talent who can help create jobs for US workers.

"In many ways, this decision is at odds with President Obama's call that the stimulus legislation shouldn't be shaped by ideological factors, but by 'what works.'

For this reason, AILA is deeply disappointed that the final bill included the Sanders H-1B amendment," he said.

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