Are H1-B Visas Good for America

Immigration has always been what has made this nation unique and prosperous, pumping new ideas and energy into its economy, culture and technology. Immigrants built our cities and railroads, settled the unexplored frontiers, and worked in our factories, creating an unprecedented industrial powerhouse. To the persecuted, the U.S. has been a haven for freedom from fear. To be anti-immigration is to be anti-American.

But immigration reform has to be done without harming American workers. It makes little sense to open the doors only to immigrants who will either cause American workers to lose their jobs or deprive those who are currently unemployed of job opportunities.

But that’s exactly the kind of wrong-headed reform Congress is contemplating for the H1-B visa system. H1-B visas are given to foreign workers who supposedly fill jobs that American workers can’t. Congress — under pressure from some technology firms, who claim there’s a shortage of skilled workers — wants to double the amount of visas given out to workers from India and China.

The fact is that there is no shortage; the claim of insufficient skilled American labor is a total fabrication. Thousands of technology workers were laid off during and since the Great Recession started, and many are still out of work or have taken low-paying jobs that are a mismatch for their skills. In a study by outplacement firm Challenger, technology layoffs in the first half of 2012 alone were 51,529, a staggering 260 percent increase over 2011. Hewlett-Packard alone laid off 30,000 workers in 2012.

So if technology companies are laying off workers in droves, why are they pushing for more H1-B visas? It’s because H1-B visa workers cost corporations a lot less when it comes to compensation. The average H1-B worker is a youthful 27 and will work for below-market wages. Although companies are supposed to pay comparable compensation to that of an American worker, they use the lack of work experience as an excuse to pay low wages to the H1-B visa holder. H1-B visa holders are routinely paid far less than American workers for the same position. Most are at the bottom 25 percent in salary.

Furthermore, despite the claim of H1-B visa holders being the best and the brightest, they rarely are. Neither are they highly educated. The only education requirement for a H1-B visa is a bachelor’s degree, a qualification 25 percent of all American workers have. Much of their work is routine programming or operations work.

Corporations are first supposed to give American workers the opportunity to fill open positions, but that regulation is poorly enforced. According to an audit by the Department of Homeland Security, one in five H1-B visas were given under false pretenses. Companies go through the motions of interviewing American workers, but find phony reasons not to give them the jobs. With a wink-and-a-nod, hiring managers are told to carry out the charade of interviewing and then claim that the only qualified applicant is the one from India.

To rub salt in the wounds of American workers and save money, corporations often take H1-B holders to learn applications with the idea to then ship those workers back offshore and pay them a fraction of the salary. Once the knowledge transfer is complete, the American worker is fired, and the applications are supported and developed offshore. Some of the largest and most respected American corporations have been guilty of such unethical behavior.

That the ultimate goal is to ship the intellectual capital overseas is obvious when the largest users of H1-B visas are identified. Wipro, Tata Consulting and Infosys are the biggest sponsors of H1-B visas, but these companies are not American corporations; they are Indian outsourcing vendor firms which provide thousands of offshore positions to American companies. The top 10 firms granted H1-B visas were outsourcing companies, accounting for 40,000 out of the 85,000 visas granted.

Besides the lower wages that companies pay H1-B visa holders, corporations love the stability such workers provide. Under current regulations, H1-B visas workers have a difficult time moving to another company because any time they do so it resets the clock on their ability to have permanent resident status, a path many dream of pursuing. Companies are well aware that H1-B holders have little leverage and pay them accordingly and demand long hours, knowing that they will hear little protest.

It’s up to Congress to put an end to this scam, and demand that American workers get full precedence when it comes to open positions. We should welcome immigrants who perform labor Americans won’t or can’t do. We should provide succor to those who are escaping tyranny, persecution and repression, but we should not promote an immigration policy that carts off American know-how, exploits workers, and ships off jobs to foreign countries.