Monday, February 27, 2006

Abolish the H-1B; Green Cards for US Graduates Instead

The H-1B visa is a 3-6 year temporary worker program originally designed to allow corporations to sponsor workers to fill an alleged worker shortage - this has since been disproved in the IT market which is the largest destination for IT workers on the H-1B visa. Until 2003 the H-1B cap was set to 195,000 and has since been lowered to 85,000 with the majority still flooding the IT job market.

After years of addressing the problem of H-1B visas, it is time to push for an entirely different approach. It has become clear that the practice of giving power over a person's immigration status to a corporation is unethical and should be banned. The H-1B visa harms American workers and foreign workers alike; the law was drafted to subsidize corporations with cheap skilled labor and not to protect American jobs or foreign workers from abuse.

The largest share of H-1B visas go to "body shops" or companies that outsource their services. Wipro, Infosys, and Tata (large Indian outsourcing companies) use this visa to enable offshore outsourcing of American jobs. Instead of meeting a shortage of IT workers falsely claimed by the IT lobby in the late 1990s, it is now a supply of cheap labor. The IT lobby predicted over 2 million jobs would be created from 2000-2010. As of today, we have lost 170,000 IT jobs since 2000. So much for job creation.

The H-1B doesn't always go to the best and brightest; the majority of H-1B IT workers are in their early to mid twenties and work for on average $13,000 less than their American counterparts, according to a report issued by the CIS. Don't be fooled, this visa is not filling high-skilled jobs that Americans are unwilling to do or not trained to do.

Every time we work to close one loophole in the H-1B, unscrupulous companies are hard at work exploiting another vulnerability. The number of H-1B visas are limited, so it was important that they go where our society needs them most - like to doctors and truly skilled innovators who would make our country more competitive as opposed to using the visa as a tool to export American jobs.

The only true fix to the H-1B is a total ban of the visa. I acknowledge that there will always be professionals immigration to the United States and don't advocate closing the door to them; we should be smart about who we let in and where they go. I would offer them something better than a temporary visa: a green card.

The H-1B visa should be replaced with a path to a green card for graduates with advanced degrees from accredited American universities. A green card creates a worker who is truly mobile and a real participant of the free market. Additionally they gain an interest in the future of our nation and will help create jobs as opposed to exporting them. Any such system should offer protections to the American workforce and show preference to the most experienced and educated immigrants.

Such a visa would have the following attributes:

  1. Best and Brightest
    Advanced graduates of accredited American universities should be eligible. GPA should matter.
  2. Mobility
    Workers on the green card have the ability to participate in the free market and change jobs at will. If they are being mistreated they can leave without jeopardizing their immigration status. Their ability to negotiate better wages is good for American workers who should not be forced to compete with exploited and lower paid workers in our own workforce.
  3. Labor Protections
    When American workers experience difficult times and a sour job market, it is not fair to force them to compete with additional foreign workers. Occupations experiencing high unemployment as shown by the BLS OES survey should be closed to immigrants until things improve. A good measure is the historical average unemployment across all occupations - usually below 2.5%. over the past six years. Any occupation with an unemployment rate above 3% should be closed to immigration. Occupations with the lowest unemployment should be open to the largest share of immigrants.
  4. Education Protections
    American students should not be displaced to foreign students. If universities want to accommodate more immigrants they should build larger facilities and hire more professors. The quality and access to a higher education for American students should never be jeopardized.
  5. Permanent
    We should not risk losing the investment in education and training to foreign companies. We should want to hoard as many smart people as possible. This is part of being competitive in the global economy. Reward these immigrants with a green card for their hard work and encourage them to become American citizens. Better that they are on our team than India or China's.

Such a plan would only work with a total ban of the H-1B visa. Employment sponsored visas have become tools to exploit skilled labor and replace American workers. We need the best and brightest skilled workers, not the most exploitable and cheapest workers.


At 2:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

With all due respect you dont have knowledge about the people who work here
and about their backgrounds. Not everyone who works here on a H1 works for
Wipro, TCS or Infosys. Yes you are right the bulk of H1s may belong to those companies. But there are many others who work here on H1s for companies who do product development in US. For example I work for a company whose headquarters is here but has all their sales offices and support offices in Canada. The only reason why they have the engineering/development team here is because of me. I have been in this country for 8 years. Initially i came in here as a direct employee to a big finance company. They hired me direct from my home country. They brought me here giving me a good pay bonus etc. Since then obviously i have changed jobs because i was offered a better pay . I have also applied for a green card which is pending in processing for a long time ! But If i dont get it soon i will have to move to Canada. As an architect and lead developer of the product I would be taking 10 development jobs to Canada and may be then to my home country. A lot of friends have already done this taking jobs back to their country.

So about your argument that only Masters/PHDs students have to be given Greencard. One thing you may not know is that in our country especially in the last 8 years only the college graduates who could not get a decent paying job came to US to pursue higher studies. for example one of my classmates came to US 8 years ago and passed his masters in 21/2 years with a high GPA. But he was in the lower end in my class and i was at a higher end. Just because I did not want to get a Masters because I rather worked for a company here than study , should I lose out on the GreenCard ??!!

I hope to get a response from you...


At 4:36 PM, Blogger R. Lawson said...

I appreciate your response. This is a complicated issue. I think the fact that you have waited 8 years on a "temporary" visa to get permanent residence is problematic. Although it appears the companies you worked for did not take advantage of the situation, others do take advantage.

If it makes you feel any better I am getting hate-mail from both sides of the issue. There really is not a balance in the argument, which is something I am seeking.

I may be wrong on what I think would be a better system, but I don't think we are having a good debate on the issue. There doesn't seem to be a middle ground.

If you have other ideas, feel free to present them. Keep in mind the three key players - business, foreign labor, and domestic labor.


At 5:59 AM, Blogger Prasanth said...


Your suggestions pre-suppose certain things:

1. Innovators come from only American universities and those from non-American universities are not.
2. American Universities are the best in the world and will remain to be so.
3. Students from other countries will flock to American universities to get the "best education" that they can get in the world.
4. Students from other countries would like to remain in US after they have finished their education.
5. Americans (and the permitted immigrants) will do all the cutting edge work only in America. Rest of the world like us will be reduced to the status of raw material (no processing or value additions please- that is an American monopoly) suppliers and be grateful for the benevolence of the US in providing us obsolete technology. (Sorry for the sarcasm - couldn't resist ;) ).



At 6:53 PM, Blogger Joseph said...

As someone in (and from) the UK, I'd just like to add my views on this.

The US immigration system is currently in a very poor state. It's far too complex, oversubscribed, and urgently needs reform. The H-1B is a worthwhile visa only if it goes to people who will bring a benefit to the economy. This doesn't necessarily mean that they won't be replacing an American - it makes no sense to hire an underperforming person over a highly educated and/or motivated person purely on grounds of nationality.

What I would suggest is that there indeed be a path to permanent residence for US graduates - it's absurd to subsidize people to do Masters and PhDs and then kick them out at the end. Then again, there would clearly have to be controls - a Harvard grad is likely to be a lot better for the economy than a Texas Bible College one (unless you're a neocon, of course).

So, this is what I would propose:

a) A TEMPORARY visa for people working in the US for a short period - maybe a year rather than 6, with no opportunity to change status without returning home

b) Green Cards for US-educated Masters and PhD students, with STEM getting it automatically and others when they get a job offer. There shouldn't be a requirement to prove that no US citizens were suitable, but it should be proven that the normal wage rate is being paid.

c) The current green card system for others, although priority to those with US BA/BS degrees, then other BAs or clearly proven non-degree achievements (such as entrepreneurs)

The advantages of this would be that highly motivated and skilled workers could stay easily and with far less bureaucracy than now.


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