America is divided like never before on the issue of immigration. Both sides are legitimately frustrated with the status quo. However, the partisan bickering appears to coalesce and take on a uniform front when it comes to one group – non-immigrants currently in H-1B and other highly specialized worker categories (L-1, TN, H1B1, etc.). These workers appear to have drawn the ire of Republicans and Democrats alike. For instance, there are an equal number of Bills sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats designed to either curtail, or kill the program!
One side thinks that non-immigrants in H-1B status are “stealing” jobs from deserving Americans. People like Attorney General Jeff Sessions have openly called for eliminating the program, going so far as to say, “I don’t think the republic would collapse if it was totally eliminated.” Unfortunately, there appears to be no due consideration given to the needs of businesses that currently use the program for legitimate purposes or for the thousands of highly qualified workers who came here legally and find themselves in the middle of a highly partisan debate. Unsurprisingly, H-1B non-immigrants are afraid of speaking up for fear of being scapegoated. I have found in my experience that in fact, H-1B workers are some of the most law abiding, highly qualified, low maintenance workforce ever assembled. While they diligently pay their taxes and contribute towards Social Security and Medicare, they know they can derive no benefit from so doing.
Some theorize that slowing down H-1B traffic and making it harder for people to come to the U.S. would increase wages locally and thereby encourage U.S. workers to move towards STEM jobs. What they don’t seem to consider is how Employers, faced with visa bottlenecks, could easily move these jobs abroad. This happened, for a different reason, to manufacturing and those jobs, notwithstanding the current President’s assurances to the contrary, are not coming back! Therefore, from an economic stand point, it is important to realize that having H-1B workers enter the U.S., work and pay taxes here is better than jobs leaving the U.S. permanently.
Another group thinks that raising salaries would be an adequate hedge against H-1B workers, especially in the technology sector. Nothing can be more near sighted than this irrational viewpoint. Consider, for instance the fact that summer interns at Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook will be paid more than the average American! These companies do not reflect the average American employer and may in fact be responsible for artificially skewing the median wage. Therefore, an over reliance on a median salary to fix a threshold would result in salaries becoming unaffordable for the average employer. This is likely to result in businesses relying on outsourced labor from countries like the Philippines, China, Korea, India, etc. to build apps, maintain networks, customize software and manage projects remotely. The jobs that are currently filled locally and remain competitive for American workers will slowly move abroad and forever be lost. Technology is the future and we should guard our ability to control it if we hope to retain these jobs stateside.
Let us now turn to the H-1B worker. There is no end in sight for the majority of H-1B workers who entered legally, but were born in India and China. They have to wait in line for the backlog (caused due to the artificial CAP on immigration from these countries) to clear and this could take anywhere from 12-15 years, or more! And yet, this Administration and its supporters torment the H-1B worker constantly by issuing statements and tweets designed to spread fear and confusion. For instance, the number of H-1B CAP filings fell dramatically this year because employers believed an imminent end to the program, or at least an altered reality that would impose extreme hardship on legitimate filings.
Market factors could provide some balance, but it would take tremendous political courage to lift the CAP on H-1Bs and immigrant visas. This administration cannot speak out of both sides of its mouth and declare on the one hand that they are for reduced regulations that impede businesses and try and curtail H-1B visas at the same time. It is important to challenge the status quo, but through a reasoned approach that includes all stakeholders.