A telling Mercury News story pits high-tech industry leaders against the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and its Director Francis Cissna.
According to the story, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff are among the many tech industry executives pushing back against the Trump administration’s efforts to tighten H-1B visa regulations and possibly cut their aggregate annual number. The visa allows U.S. companies to hire foreign nationals, and in the process denies job opportunities to Americans or displaces existing workers. Silicon Valley wants to increase the official 85,000 H-1B cap.
True to historical norm, a week after Cissna’s speech, a 60-member strong lobbying group named the “Business Roundtable” wrote to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to express “serious concern about changes in immigration policy that are causing considerable anxiety for many thousands of our employees while threatening to disrupt company operations.”
The Roundtable also plugged the H-4 visa that allows H-1B visa spouses to work, a 2015 executive action provision that Congress never approved. In addition to the aforementioned Apple and Salesforce, other Roundtable signatories included Cisco, IBM, JPMorgan Chase and outsourcing giant Cognizant.
Recently released federal data, however, belies the executives’ strong inference that the bottom is falling out. In 2017, Facebook received 53 percent more H-1B visas than in 2016; Google, a 31 percent boost, and Apple, a 7 percent hike. In 2017, Google spent more on immigration lobbying than any other corporation.
In his address at the National Press Club, Cissna stated that “all these [visa] programs” are rife with “all sorts of fraud and abuse.” People trying to “game” U.S. immigration laws is, Cissna said, an “eternal problem” for his agency.
To support his conviction that U.S. immigration is too easily manipulated, Cissna offered this hypothetical example. An individual comes to the U.S. as a tourist, then he changes status to student, and studies for four years. Next, he gets a master’s degree, then changes status again to H-1B, stays for three more years with an automatic three-year extension. Finally, he can qualify for Optional Practical Training, and remain three more years. In all, Cissna noted, a foreign national arrives as a tourist, on a temporary nonimmigrant visa, but remains for up to a dozen years without ever having been interviewed by an immigration official. “Not prudent,” said Cissna.
Cissna’s solution is unthinkable to employers who have come to rely on not only the H-1B, but also the H-2A agricultural, the H-2B non-ag, and myriad other employment-based visas. Said Cissna: “I would really love it if Congress would just pass a one-sentence provision that would just prohibit American workers being replaced by H-1B workers.”
The multi-billion-dollar corporations that rely on H-1Bs – trillion-dollar in Apple’s case – and their billionaire executives who profit from cheap labor would rue the day that their pipeline to low-cost workers was cut off. But millions of unemployed and under-employed Americans would breathe a sigh of relief and ask what took so long.