There is a great deal of obfuscation and duplicity with respect to H-1B visas. NYT columnist Thomas Friedman, the globalization cheerleader of The World is Flat fame, proposed to "[remove] all limits on H-1B visas for foreign high-skilled knowledge workers." Reuters, a user of H-1B visas, reported on 'specialty' occupations that generally require higher education, often using phrases such as "high-skilled workers." NYT columnist David Brooks, who only PBS considers to be a conservative -- okay, he's really a neo-con -- pleaded with us to support the "free trade and skilled immigration that fuel growth." Senator Marco Rubio, a charter member of the Gang of Eight which constantly pushes for increased immigration, declared: "I, for one, have no fear that this country is going to be overrun by PhDs."
If one does not understand the H-1B program, one might accept that these so-called high-skilled workers are necessary for the growth of our economy. The problem is that there are actually two very different parts of the H-1B visa program, with the two being intentionally conflated by parties with conflicts of interest. And your author, who possesses a B.S. degree, would not classify someone with one as "high-skilled."
The first H-1B category consists of 20,000 visas reserved for applicants with an M.S. degree or higher. These people often end up starting companies and creating jobs. However, policing must be done to weed-out applicants from below average schools.
The second consist of 65,000 visas reserved for those with a B.S. degree or higher, but practically speaking, they are always used for people with only a B.S. degree, often for applicants of ordinary talent from India. This category of visa is regularly abused, e.g. at Disney, Southern California Edison, Northeast Utilities, and Microsoft, often after forcing American workers to train their foreign replacements.
There are currently around 400,000 workers in the U.S. on H-1B visas., though that number is only approximate because even the GAO admits that "the total number of H-1B workers in the U.S. at any one time -- and information about the length of their stay -- is unknown."
One of the myths regarding H-1B visas is that companies are required to search for American workers before hiring foreign ones. Senator Charles Grassley, an expert on the subject, noted that "under the law, most employers are not required to prove to the Department of Labor that they tried to find an American to fill the job first. And, if there is an equally or even better qualified U.S. worker available, the company does not have to offer him or her the job. Over the years the program has become a government-assisted way for employers to bring in cheaper foreign labor, and now it appears these foreign workers take over -- rather than complement -- the U.S. workforce."
Another myth is that there is a shortage of STEM workers, forcing employers to look outside U.S. borders.
"If there was really a STEM labor market crisis, you'd be seeing very different behaviors from companies. You wouldn't see companies cutting their retirement contributions, or hiring new workers and giving them worse benefits packages. Instead you would see signing bonuses, you'd see wage increases. You would see these companies really training their incumbent workers," noted Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology. "None of those things are observable. In fact, they’re operating in the opposite way."
"There is no doubt that the [H-1B] program is a benefit to their employers, enabling them to get workers at a lower wage, and to that extent, it is a subsidy," said Nobel economist Milton Friedman.
Those who doubt that H-1B visas are a huge business should search for "H-1B visa" using their favorite Internet search engine -- and note the many firms making money on them.
And while millions of Americans are unable to find full-time work -- U6, which takes into account people who have only been able to find part-time work, currently stands at 9.2% -- immigration has held steady at around one million per year since 2001, with the only blip in the data occurring due to 9/11 -- and no blip at all following the 2008 crash.
There are other visa categories which are used to import foreign workers, including L-1A and L-1B which were designed to give multinational companies the freedom to transfer managers and specialists within the company to their U.S. offices, but they are regularly abused as an H-1B loophole. Senators Grassley and Dick Durbin found that some companies have hundreds or even thousands of them. And there is no cap on them.
B-1 visas are intended to be used for temporary events, e.g. meetings, but they are regularly abused. Infosys, one of the top-ten users of H-1B visas, was fined a record $34 million for using B-1 visas to bring in long-term employees.
There are five categories of entrepreneur visa -- O-1A Extraordinary Ability and Achievement, EB-1 Extraordinary Ability, EB-2 Classification and National Interest Waiver, EB-2 Advanced Degree Professional, and EB-2 Exceptional Ability -- which ostensibly require the employer to "certify ... that there are not sufficient U.S. workers able, willing, qualified and available to accept the job opportunity in the area of intended employment and that employment of the foreign worker will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers." These are also regularly abused, though not nearly as much as H-1B, L-1, and B-1 visas.
There's even a visa for nationals of a treaty country, E-1 Treaty Traders, which might be expanded if a stake is not driven into the heart of the TPP.
Donald Trump should order the State Department to stop approving the second category of H-1B visas, and for all other visa categories, he should seek the advice of Senator Grassley, Senator Durbin, Ron Hira, and other concerned Americans with respect to eliminating corporate welfare. And companies which abuse visas must be barred from dealing in them for a number of years, as well as being fined an amount that inflicts corporate pain.