Employers should try to hire Americans first

The United States is a nation of immigrants. From the transcontinental railroad to today’s technological advancements on the information superhighway, immigrants have helped to build our nation.

The solution to the immigration challenges we face won’t be simple, but now is the time to take a common-sense approach to immigration reform. That means ensuring the immigration bill is also a jobs bill – one that gives Americans workers a fair chance at fair wage jobs.

At recent roundtables in Columbus, Cleveland, Dayton and Toledo, I’ve been asking Ohioans their immigration reform priorities. There is almost unanimous agreement that we must fix our broken immigration policy.

The bipartisan Senate plan finishes the job of securing our borders. It also creates a fair, but thorough, pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants who require them.

It also creates an employment verification system – to crack down on employers who are hiring workers without documentation – that prevents identity theft and brings jobs out of the shadows.

But while the proposal we’re debating on the Senate floor is a critical step forward, I believe there are ways we can improve it further so our immigration policy is also a good jobs policy.

That means ensuring American companies seek out skilled American workers before seeking visas for foreign workers.

Right now, the H-1B program serves an important, but specific, purpose. When American employers cannot find the technical workers essential to their operations, businesses can recruit foreign workers through this visa. But we need to make sure foreign workers aren’t being hired at the expense of Americans.

That’s why Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-IA, and I introduced a bipartisan bill called the H-1B and L-1 Visa Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act of 2013. Our bill requires employers to make good-faith efforts to hire Americans first, and much of it was included in the immigration bill under Senate consideration.

Our work helped ensure the immigration bill included a provision to require employers to give American workers the first crack at a job opportunity before it can be filled with a visa holder. But during committee debate of the bill, our provision was altered so employers now only have to take steps to recruit American workers; they no longer have to give hiring preference to equally or better-qualified American workers and can instead seek a visa for the foreign worker.

It is counterproductive to require employers to engage in additional recruiting steps designed to attract qualified U.S. workers without also requiring them to hire these workers if they apply.

If there are qualified Ohioans who can do the work, there is no need to fill a post with an H-1B worker. That’s why I’ve introduced an amendment to the immigration bill that will improve hiring practices of companies that temporarily hire foreign workers in specialty occupations.

Our bipartisan amendment requires H-1B employers to first offer a position to an equally or better-qualified American worker before seeking a visa to offer it to a foreign worker.

H-1B workers make a valuable contribution to our nation, but they should be hired when there is a demonstrable need not at the expense of a qualified Ohio worker is are ready, willing, and able to do a job.