In 2007, the Pittsburgh-based law firm Cohen & Grigsby hosted an immigration seminar in which it advised employers how to get around hiring American tech workers, and instead hire foreign national H-1B visa holders.
The videotaped session showed a Cohen & Grigsby director outlining the ways tech job postings could be written to discourage American candidates and to encourage selecting H-1B visa holders. According to Cohen and Grigsby director Lawrence Lebowitz: “Our goal is clearly not to find a qualified and interested U.S. worker.” Lebowitz bluntly added that his firm’s objective is to get foreign nationals green cards as a cheap labor vehicle to displace American job holders.
Eventually, the tape found its way into H-1B critics’ hands where it became widely distributed, and predictably set off calls for congressional investigations which, although they were held, yielded nothing. During the decade that followed the Cohen & Grigsby disgrace, thousands of American tech workers have lost their jobs, and suffered through the indignity of training their foreign-born H-1B replacements. Employers who want H-1B workers have ratcheted up their lobbying, spending tens of millions of dollars to keep the worker visa pipeline open, and managed to keep a complicit Congress at bay.
But with uncertainty surrounding what restrictions the Trump administration may impose on employment-based visas, and crackdowns over false and purposely misleading statements on visa applications, employers are more skeptical about hiring H-1Bs, especially noncitizens who hold MBAs from U.S. universities.
In a complete about-face from the disloyal, Cohen and Grigsby subvert-the-American-worker philosophy, American tech workers may suddenly find themselves once again coveted. A Wall Street Journal story, “U.S. Workers Only: Companies Hesitate to Hire Foreign MBA Students,” reported the encouraging details. More and more employers require that their applicants be either U.S. citizens, or lawfully present, employment-authorized residents.
Research from The Wall Street Journal, conducted by the firm Gartner, found in an analysis of 25 million job advertisements on company websites and social media platforms during the first six months of 2018 that more than 877,000 jobs required that candidates have U.S. citizenship or federal government work authorization, a 19% increase over last year.
Another study, this one from the Graduate Management Admission Council, showed that only 47% of U.S. companies plan to hire business school graduates born abroad, a decline from the previous year’s 55%.
More hopeful news: Overseas students whose chances of landing a good tech job, assuming academic success, were once all but guaranteed are now less eager to matriculate in stateside MBA programs. Foreign applications at two-year MBA programs were down 5.5% last year nationwide. Since admissions to MBA graduate programs are limited to a fixed number, fewer international applications open up more seats for Americans.
Congress created the H-1B visa as part of the 1990 Immigration Act under the assumption that the holders would be temporarily employed to fill existing workforce gaps. But the threshold for the new foreign national employees was low, and for decades employers have, at American tech workers’ expense, taken advantage of the too-loose existing standards.
Through its indifference, the federal government endorses H-1B abuse and misuse. Twelve years ago, in 2006, the Department of Labor’s Strategic Plan noted that H-1B workers may be hired even when a qualified U.S. worker wants the job, and a U.S. worker can be displaced from the job in favor of the foreign worker.
Nevertheless, despite occasional blustering, Congress has refused to right the wrongs. The current trend back to hiring American or lawful permanent residents is overdue and welcome.