Let’s start at the beginning. Securing an employment-based visa to enter the United States to work should be hard, far more difficult than it has been during the last 30 years. If the Trump administration is making the visa process harder, then that’s a good thing. Visas translate into jobs that either displace existing American workers or deny recent university graduates a fair shot at open positions because incoming foreign-born labor is cheaper and therefore more appealing to employers.
The mantra among visa seekers is that they want to come to the U.S., work hard and make a better life for themselves. All of that is true, and admirable, but those goals shouldn’t come at the expense of American workers. Make no mistake about the harmful visa process; Americans are victimized by what has been the steady inflow of employment-based visas, primarily the H-1B, ill-conceived as part of the Immigration Act of 1990. Before the H-1B visa became commonplace in the tech industry, U.S. workers often spent their entire careers in the field, gradually earning pay increases as they became more senior.
To the alarmist establishment media and cheap labor-addicted high-tech employers, the Trump administration’s modest moves to make getting an H-1B visa slightly more challenging than it’s been in the past is a grievous miscalculation that will cost the nation dearly in the race for global talent. National Public Radio broadcast a story sympathetic to tech employers and suggested that skillled foreign nationals who once would have come to the U.S. are now Canada-bound. Over the decades, the media and big business have told and retold endlessly false narratives: the U.S. has a talent shortage that forces employers to seek workers from abroad. Without more H-1B visas, so their fable goes, the U.S. is doomed.
NPR reported that a dozen or so tech employers recently met at an upscale New York restaurant to bemoan what they insist is a domestic worker shortage, and what they perceive as an immigrant-unfriendly White House. In the end, however, the H-1B cap remains at 85,000 annually, and the Optional Training Program for F-1 foreign-born students has inundated the tech labor pool with tens of thousands of new, young and inexperienced workers – red meat for Silicon Valley employers.
The only way employers could sincerely believe that a shortage exists would be if they had their eyes shut tight. Several rigorous, independent studies have found no evidence of a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) worker shortage and critiqued earlier warnings of looming shortages. The Economic Policy Institute, which has covered H-1Bs extensively, concluded that only anecdotal evidence exists to suggest the need for more STEM H-1B workers. Managerial complaints about an inability to hire qualified workers is not because of a lack of qualified Americans, but rather the result of a specific search for foreign-born applicants.
Job displacement is only half of the equation when an immigrant comes to the U.S. To measure the total effect of inviting more overseas workers, consider what Harvard Business School professor and author of “The Gift of Global Talent” William Kerr said: “People are making a choice to come and invest in their lives, whether for school or for work, and they want to have long-term opportunities.”
Kerr’s statement, practically defined, means that the H-1B workers will bring their families and/or once on U.S. soil add to their existing families. Eventually, immigrants can petition their extended families to join them. Their spouses and adult children qualify for employment authorization documents, and other affirmative benefits. Immigration drives population growth, and swells the labor market, two negatives.
President Jimmy Carter’s Labor Secretary Ray Marshall provided the shortest and sweetest H-1B summary. About the visa, Marshall said: “One of the best con jobs ever done on the American public and political systems…. H-1B pays below market rate. If you’ve got H-1B workers, you don’t have to do training or pay good wages.” Congress has allowed the con to continue unchecked for three decades, and the time to end it is now. U.S. jobs should go to Americans, not foreign nationals imported from halfway around the world.