A new H-1B fight looms with the Democratic Congress


But H-1B visas will likely remain the focal point of debate, and opponents intend to seek changes in how the program is operated.

"The system is worthless," said Ron Hira, vice president for career activities at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-USA. "The only thing protecting the workforce right now is the cap, and there is almost nothing protecting the foreign workers from being exploited."

For instance, employers who hire workers with H-1B visas must attest that they will pay workers the prevailing wage for the job. The employer includes the prevailing wage data in the labor condition applications (LCA) that go to the U.S. Department of Labor. But the Labor Department's role in checking the LCA is limited by law. It looks for errors and omissions electronically, but it doesn't have the ability to randomly audit companies to ensure compliance with wage laws and can undertake investigations only in response to a complaint.

In a report released in June, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) said the Labor Department's LCA electronic review process also made mistakes. It found 3,229 applications from companies using H-1B that reported they were paying wages below the prevailing wage.

The GAO's finding meant "that potentially 3,000 jobs were given to foreigners who are paid less than Americans for the same job," U.S. Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.) said at a hearing by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Immigration, which released the GAO report. Hostettler, who chaired that committee, lost his re-election bid last year.