At the most recent GOP debate, frontrunner Donald Trump seemingly reversed his long-standing opposition to higher immigration, at least as it relates to high-skilled foreign workers. “I’m softening the position because we need to have talented people in this country, the mogul explained, adding that “if we can’t do [the work ourselves], we’ll get them in.”
Many assumed that Trump was referring to the H-1B visa program, which allows foreign nationals with specialized skills or advanced degrees to work in the United States.
However, shortly after the debate, the billionaire’s campaign clarified that Trump was “asked about highly-skilled immigration. The H-1B program is neither high-skilled nor immigration: these are temporary foreign workers, imported from abroad, for the explicit purpose of substituting for American workers at lower pay.”
The latter statement is largely correct: Employers continually abuse the program, using it to recruit cheaper foreign workers for jobs that Americans can — and currently do — fill. Those who care about American workers can only hope that the statement reflects Trump’s true beliefs.
The H-1B visa program, established in 1990, was developed so that employers could hire workers with skills that they could not find in America. For instance, if a small U.S. engineering firm was planning a project in China, as one recently was, then that firm could try to recruit engineers who speak fluent Mandarin.
Shockingly, such legitimate applications are often denied, because large outsourcing firms game the system.
They send in tens of thousands of applications within moments of the admission process going live, increasing their chances of obtaining visas allotted by lottery. These firms then contract with greedy American companies and use the approved visas to import thousands of skilled — but not uniquely skilled, workers.
By competing with American employees, these H-1B workers put downward pressure on wages.
Far too often, firms don’t just use H-1B holders to fill positions that could go to willing Americans. Businesses actually lay off their American workers and replace them with cheaper foreign ones.
Worse, a new executive action will soon enable the spouses of H-1B workers to obtain job permits. There’s no guarantee that the spouses will be highly skilled — many of them may directly compete with struggling working-class Americans for blue-collar jobs.
The H-1B program needs serious reforms. Certainly, if an exceptionally talented foreign national graduates from a prestigious U.S. university or has a specific skill set that Americans don’t have, the nation can find room for such a person.
But as it stands, America’s high-skilled immigration program doesn’t actually bring in the best and the brightest. It just brings in workers who can do Americans’ jobs for less.