In a campaign that strikes at the heart of Silicon Valley hiring practices, Congress is being urged to fix the H-1B visa program, a major source of U.S. tech worker displacement since 1990. Now in its second week, the campaign features posters in BART trains and stations with a message for tech and other employers to hire U.S. tech workers.
Unambiguous messaging – “Your companies think you are expensive, undeserving & expendable. Congress, fix H-1B law so companies must seek & hire U.S. workers!” – ignited a Facebook firestorm with predictable extremist racism and xenophobia allegations. In today’s landscape, it’s easier to yell “fire” in a theater than to engage in intelligent, fact-based discussion. Comments posted on the Mercury News which first reported on the campaign, and incoming email from American tech professionals both employed and unemployed, were overwhelmingly positive, however.
In addition to sparking productive discussion and federal corrective action on the H-1B visa, Progressives for Immigration Reform, the campaign creator, hopes to foster a movement to unite tech workers. Not only are long-term tech workers displaced by H-1Bs – often forced to train replacements or forfeit severance packages – recent science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduates are losing employment opportunities due to companies filling positions with H-1B workers.
The annual guest worker inflow is equal to half of all tech hires even though U.S. colleges and universities graduate plenty of STEM workers. For stark data, consider that for every two students who graduate with STEM degrees, only one is hired into a STEM job. And in Silicon Valley, foreign workers account for about 70 percent of the tech workforce.
Employers’ persistent claim that a domestic tech worker shortage exists, and that therefore they are forced to hire overseas workers, is wildly overblown. In 2016, the displaced American tech community prompted a Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest hearing titled “The Impact of High- Skilled Immigration on U.S. Workers.”
During the hearing, Howard University H-1B expert Ron Hira testified that during 2016, Southern California Edison, Disney, Northeast Utilities, the Fossil Group, Catalina Marketing, New York Life, Hertz and Toys“R”Us were among the major corporations hiring H-1B workers. Hira described the companies he identified as favoring low-cost, overseas workers to Americans as “only the proverbial tip of the iceberg,” and assured the committee that many more cases existed. See a 2017 interview with Hira on the H-1B’s ill-effects here.
In other disturbing testimony, Rutgers University’s Hal Salzman challenged employers’ public statements that not enough domestic workers are available. Saltzman noted that employers’ U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings tell a very different story. From Salzman’s testimony: “Accenture [a tech company] states that restrictions on guest worker supply would result in ‘new or higher minimum salary requirements and increased costs.’ Another firm says it would have to ‘replace existing offshore resources with local resources, namely U.S. workers, at higher wages.’”
Put another way, without the H-1B visa, the tech industry would have to hire more U.S. workers, and compensate them at a higher rate than guest workers.
Adding his criticism into the mix, Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said on a CNBC “Power Lunch” segment that the “very broken” H-1B visa program exploits foreign workers to the continued detriment of existing employees’ wages.
Urging U.S. employers to hire Americans, as this campaign does, isn’t controversial, prejudicial or discriminatory. Logic dictates that U.S. citizens must have the first opportunity to apply for U.S. jobs. When there is an abundance of qualified citizen candidates available, there is no justification for looking outside of the country. Employment-based guest worker visas like the H-1B instead give preference to non-citizens to benefit the elite at the expense of members of the ever-shrinking U.S. middle class.
Congressional inertia represents the biggest hurdle for H-1B victims. Inaction translates to one lost American job per each of the 85,000 H-1B visas issued annually.