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AFL-CIO calls for reform on temp workers

The unions group wants Congress to revamp its temporary-worker programs, saying workers are being abused and misused in the down economy--especially in the tech sector.

The AFL-CIO is calling on Congress to revamp its temporary-worker programs, saying workers are being abused and misused in the down economy, especially by companies in the tech sector.

Temporary-worker permits such as L-1 and H-1B visas allow highly skilled foreigners to enter the United States to fulfill certain jobs within a company and are especially popular among tech companies.

In a new policy statement on the topic that it released Wednesday, the AFL-CIO Executive Council asked for major revisions to the worker visa programs.

"In the current recession--unlike previous economic downturns--a growing number of well-educated and highly skilled U.S. professional and technical workers have found themselves in the long lines of the unemployed," the AFL-CIO Executive Council wrote in the policy statement. "For many, particularly workers in high tech, these policies have made a bad situation much worse."

The council urged Congress to limit the number of H-1B visas per company, restrict each worker to a three-year, nonrenewable term and implement a plan that requires companies to show that they've sought to employ U.S. workers but couldn't find them. Under the current plan, H-1Bs can stay for as long as six years, and companies do not have strict reporting requirements about their search for U.S. workers.

The council also called on other lawmakers to support legislation that Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., sponsored that would reform the program for L-1 visas, otherwise known as intracompany transferee visas. L-1 visa are designed to allow employees with specialized skills to transfer from a company's offices in a foreign country to its workplace in the United States. The AFL-CIO said companies abuse the program by using foreigners who have L-1s to replace U.S. workers, sometimes requiring people to train their replacements.

The permit programs have long been controversial. During boom times, tech companies said they simply couldn?t find enough skilled U.S. workers to fill their vast numbers of job openings and thus turned to foreign guest workers to grow or maintain their business. However, some tech workers have argued that companies were using the permits to hire cheaper labor.

Now that the boom has gone bust, many highly skilled workers feel as if they're facing a multipronged attack on their jobs, making the worker permits an even more heated topic among employees in the tech sector.

The economic doldrums have made it hard for many people to find full-time work. What's more, companies are increasingly turning to outsourcing, sending even white-collar and development jobs overseas to countries such as China, Ireland and India. A recent Gartner study predicted that nearly one out of every 10 jobs at technology companies will eventually move overseas.