The United States has long served to draw top talent from other countries, particularly into its Information Technology sector, but a new push from lawmakers may limit the number of new workers that can enter the country.

Senators are seeking to limit migrant information technology professionals to the US who are allowed through the H1-B visa program as more unemployment reaches record highs. US Senators Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) want to review US immigration policy that they say might be taking American jobs from Americans.

Traditionally, H-1B visas allow U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers who have the equivalent of a U.S. bachelor's degree in a job category that is considered by the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services to be a specialty occupation.

“Some employers have abused the H-1B program, using it to bypass qualified Americans,” Senator Durbin said in a statement posted on his website.

“The H-1B program can’t be allowed to become a job-killer in America. We need to ensure that firms are not misusing these visas, causing American workers to be unfairly deprived of good high-skill jobs here at home,” Durbin added.

Alongside this, the government is actively discouraging the recruitment of foreign workers, from jobs ranging from farmers and fruit pickers to lifeguards and computer programmers, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“We can’t let powerful outside interests cloud our view of the harsh reality that highly skilled Americans are being passed over for jobs for cheaper, foreign labor,” Senator Grassley said on his website.

Other outspoken critics of the H1-B visa program include American economist and Nobel prize winner Milton Friedman, who in a 2002 Computerworld article blasted the visa program a as a corporate subsidy.

University of Michigan’s Dr. Norman Matloff's published a controversial piece in Journal of Law Reform claiming that there has been no shortage of qualified American citizens to fill American computer related jobs. Rather, the industry’s motivation for hiring H-1Bs is primarily a desire for cheap, compliant labor.

The H-1B program has a long history of abuse by IT employers of all types and sizes. The abuse is largely, but not exclusively, due to the de facto indentured servitude of the H-1Bs, said Matloff .

More recent research suggests that the use of the program is bringing a net positive value to companies, and in turn to the nation.

Researchers sifting through patents found that foreign nationals residing in the United States were named as inventors or co-inventors in one quarter of patent applications filed from the United States in 2006, up from the 7.6% of applications filed in 1998.

Immigrant patent filings accounted for 72% of the total at Qualcomm, 65% at Merck, 64% at General Electric, and 60% at Cisco Systems, for example.

“I’m in favor of the program but believe that reforms need to be made so the H-1B program can be a benefit for US businesses and American workers,” Senator Grassley says.

The Senators have asked the top 25 companies that received approved H-1B visa petitions in 2007 -- comprising nearly 20,000 of the available H-1B visas last year -- to explain how they used the visa program in detailed information.

The request, dated April 1, 2009, was sent to the following companies: Infosys Technologies Ltd., Wipro Limited, Satyam Computer Services Ltd., Cognizant Tech Solutions, Microsoft Corporation, Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., Patni Computer Systems Inc., US Technology Resources LLC, I-Flex Solutions Inc., Intel Corporation, Accenture LLP, Cisco Systems Inc., Ernst & Young LLP, Larsen & Toubro Infotech Ltd., Deloitte & Touche LLP, Google Inc., Mphasis Corporation, University of Illinois at Chicago, American Unit Inc., Jsmn International Inc., Objectwin Technology Inc., Deloitte Consulting, Prince Georges County Public Schools, JPMorgan Chase and Co., and Motorola Inc.