America Last Rolls on; New Batch of H-1B Workers Arriving Soon

On April 1, employers will learn which among them will gain access to H-1B visas, and also the total number of visas each will be awarded. Now entering its fourth decade of aggressively displacing qualified U.S. tech workers, and often presenting insurmountable employment roadblocks to recent U.S. college graduates seeking jobs, the H-1B is the meal ticket that enriches corporate America on the backs of cheap foreign-born labor.

Created as part of the Immigration Act of 1990, the visa’s major flaws, among many, are its low-wage component and that the visa holders are powerless to look elsewhere for better, higher paying jobs because their employers control the visas – modern day indentured servitude or a form of 21st century slavery.

Over a 32-year-long time span, regardless of Republican or Democratic-held White Houses, little has changed in the H-1B dialogue. Employers preposterously claim that without foreign-born tech workers, their solvency would be at risk. In truth, tech companies are flush with cash, and native-born tech workers are readily available for hire. A Census Bureau analysis dated June 2021 found that among the 50 million employed college graduates ages 25 to 64 in 2019, 37 percent reported a bachelor’s degree in science or engineering, but only 14 percent worked in a STEM occupation. Less than one-third of STEM-educated students work in the STEM field. Translation: thousands of U.S. STEM workers are available. What’s missing is employers’ willingness to hire them.

Congresses, year after year, have ignored sound testimony and criticism from credible witnesses, including Democrats, that the H-1B is an American job killer that generously lines the pockets of craven employers. Those employers have adopted the heartless practice of forcing the U.S. employees they fire to first train their H-1B replacements or lose severance benefits.

Examples of on-target critiques from otherwise pro-immigration advocates:

  • Ray Marshall, President Jimmy Carter’s labor secretary: “One of the best con jobs ever done on the American public and political systems…If you’ve got H-1B workers, you don’t have to do training or pay good wages.”
  • 60 Minutes: “…(W)e discovered more and more are taking advantage of loopholes in the law to fire American workers and replace them with younger, cheaper, temporary foreign workers with H-1B visas.”
  • New York Times: “Former [Disney] employees said many immigrants who arrived were younger technicians with limited data skills who did not speak English fluently and had to be instructed in the basics of the work.”

In their recent article titled “Biden Can Fix the Anti-Worker, H-1B Immigration Visa Scam,” authors Ron Hira, Daniel Costa and Hal Salzman argue that President Joe Biden has “a clear roadmap, the legal authority, and the duty…” to clean up the H-1B program that, the authors correctly emphasize, allows big business to earn billions of dollars by, in part, stealing from employees through wage underpayment.

The H-1B and many other guest worker programs don’t have the necessary safeguards to protect either immigrant or U.S. workers. Some programs, like the H-1B or its cousin the L-1 for international transfers, are designed for the high-skilled worker. Other programs were created for low-skilled workers. That includes the H-2A for agricultural workers or H-2B for seasonal, non-ag workers. All categories of temporary or guest worker programs employ international laborers who are at their new employers’ mercy – an open invitation for abuse should unscrupulous employers choose to take advantage when safeguards are missing.

Protections are paramount since the H-1B is the largest temporary work visa program with nearly 600,000 workers currently employment-authorized in the U.S. and approximately 140,000 new guest workers who will receive visas for fiscal year 2023, and still another 300,000 receiving three-year renewals.

Assuming labor protections and a fair pay scale for the vastly underpaid foreign-born workers were in place, and enforced, hiring H-1Bs would become less appealing to employers who would eventually turn to U.S. tech workers.

Hira, Costa and Salzman make the important observation that in today’s corporate world, labor safeguards are more vital than ever. Since 1990, corporations have moved ruthlessly to slash labor costs, cut pensions, hire short-term contract workers to replace full-time employees and bust unions.

Legislative reform, no matter how desperately needed, is a long-shot. Biden is president in large part because Silicon Valley worked tirelessly on his behalf, and dumped $5 million into his 2020 campaign coffers. On the other hand, protecting American workers and at-risk guest workers is one of the most necessary functions of the Executive Office. Even though taking a pro-America stance on visa reform would give Biden a much-needed bump in his poll ratings, it is improbable that Biden is brave enough to stand up to his advisors and Silicon Valley donors.