With countless capable and educated American workers unable to find jobs, it makes little sense for politicians like NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg to call for ending a cap on H-1B visas. But that is just what is happening, giving the system for delegating the visas, which are supposed to be used to lure qualified workers when companies are faced with an American labor shortage, cause for expansion despite consistent manipulation and misuse of the program by companies known to be outsourcers.
H-1B visas are primarily used in the tech sector. Participants have a college degree and can travel with their family as a perk (although spouses are not work authorized). They can apply for Legal Permanent Residency as they work on an H-1B visa. Many recent Congressional proposals have attempted to exempt them from caps making the argument that they are smart and should be encouraged to come and stay.
Wages associated with these visas are frequently not competitive and since citizenship is tied to the H-1B jobs these workers are easily exploitable.
Ron Hira, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology and leading critic of the program, recently spoke to WNYC about the program:
“What we’ve got basically is an immigration system here that’s speeding up the off-shoring of jobs.
What’s worse, WNYC reports that these visas are often issued by champions of outsourcing. “Of the top-10 businesses approved by the Labor Department in the first step of the H1-B process last year,” WNYC writes, “eight had outsourcing operations.”
The visas are meant to be granted to companies experiencing labor shortages, but little to no search enforcement exists. Companies are not truly looking to hire qualified local talent. They want to obtain easily exploitable foreign workers.
“Because they can legally pay below market wages to those H-1B workers, there’s a strong financial incentive to substitute American workers with H-1B workers,” Hira said.
In last year’s applications, New Jersey-based outsourcer Cognizant Technologies offered to pay about $61,000 for computer systems analysts—$16,000 lower than the national average.
In a 2011 Government Accountability Office report, companies reported the full H1-B process costs from about $2,500 to above $7,500 for each application.
We Party Patriots recently took a long look at the problems with the H-2B visa program, a sister program of H-1B.
President Obama was confronted on his H-1B views on during a January online town hall meeting:
Jennifer Wedel, the wife of an unemployed semiconductor engineer, asked the president: “My question to you is why does the government continue to issue and extend H-1B visas when there are tons of Americans just like my husband with no job?”
“I’d be interested in finding out exactly what’s happening right there because the word we’re getting is that somebody in that kind of high-tech field, that kind of engineer, should be able to find something right away,” Obama said. “And the H-1Bs should be reserved only for those companies who say they cannot find somebody in that particular field.”
The H1-B program does not have any requirement that companies search publicly for a U.S. worker before turning to the visa program.
Therein lies the problem. Yet, 1%ers like NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg not only support the program but also want to see it expanded:
“This is just absurd to deny American companies access to the workers they need,” Bloomberg said at the Chamber of Commerce last year. “The government doesn’t know how many skilled workers are needed each year—only the market does. So let the markets work. And you can do that by eliminating the cap on H1 visas.”
Earlier this year, the Global Workers Justice Alliance released a study highlighting the problems with the program. It also looked at conditions in the countries many of the workers come from:
“The U.S. ‘guestworker program’ is not a program at all. It is a haphazard set of unrelated visas, many of them dreamed up by corporate lobbyists,” said Cathleen Caron, Executive Director of Global Workers Justice Alliance. “Any move to expand this flawed program will only help employers who cheat. The whole system is a mess and needs reform.”
Reform. Not expansion.