Since the Immigration Act of 1990 created the H-1B visa, the debate surrounding its value has been intense. Supporters contend that H-1Bs are needed to fill an acute talent shortage among U.S. tech workers; critics maintain that the visa cravenly serves to import cheap overseas labor that eventually displaces Americans or blocks qualified domestic candidates from employment. Guest worker inflow is equal to half of all tech hires each year at a time when U.S. colleges graduate plenty of science, technology, engineering and math students, the STEM categories.
Nearly 30 years after Congress passed the controversial act, which also authorized several other new employment-based visas, a highly respected but unlikely source has confirmed that H-1B visa workers are indeed providing cheaper labor. In its report titled “Evolution of the H-1B: Latest Trends in a Program on the Brink of Reform,” the Migration Policy Institute, a liberal-leaning, immigration expansionist Washington, D.C. think tank, admitted that H-1Bs are not, despite Silicon Valley’s claims, “the best and the brightest.”
To veteran immigration analysts, most of MPI’s report is well-worn but nevertheless troubling. For example, the H-1B cap is set at 85,000 annually – 65,000 set aside for overseas workers and, effective in 2004, an additional 20,000 granted to foreign-born students who earn an advanced degree at a U.S. university. In 2016, however, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency approved more than 345,000 H-1B petitions, a whopping four times over the legal cap.
The 2016 excess isn’t an aberration; over the last five years, USCIS approved an average 212,000 H-1B visas. The acceleration in H-1B visa issuance is a direct result of the federal government steadily loosening the guidelines. Universities, nonprofits, and government research employers have no visa cap. Moreover, H-1B holders who are renewing their visa or are switching employers are also cap-exempt.
MPI reviewed the hiring patterns of the top 20 H-1B recipient employers who in FY 2017 comprised 32 percent of the aggregate total approved petitions. Among MPI’s findings: firms that qualified as H-1B-dependent paid their immigrant employees $30,000 less on average than their non-dependent counterparts. Employers also hired fewer workers with master’s degrees or beyond – only 27 percent of those working for H-1B-dependent employers had a master’s or higher degree, compared to 55 percent for those working for non-H-1B-dependent employers.
The report cited the highly publicized Southern California Edison, New York Life, Walt Disney Company, and Toys”R” Us cases from recent years that generated national outrage when the public learned that employers fired U.S. workers, and forced the displaced Americans to train their foreign-born replacements or lose their severance payments.
Given that MPI, while generating thoughtful studies, leans toward higher immigration levels, the true shock comes in its conclusion. MPI wrote: “Data on employers making heavy use of the program suggests that some employers are not using the H-1B visa to hire the best and brightest workers [emphasis added] and may instead be filling mid-level technology jobs. As a result of this and some high-profile cases of H-1B workers being hired explicitly to replace U.S. workers, the program has come under increasing criticism.”
Disappointingly, too little H-1B denunciation comes from Congress. Instead, the legislative branch continues to purposely subvert American workers through its stealth cap increases. Remember: each H-1B visa issued represents a lost American job.