Relief for U.S. tech workers who have been unfairly displaced by craven employers came late in President Trump’s first, and possibly only, term. But the well-worn axiom applies: better late than never.
New Department of Labor and Department of Homeland Security regulations will tighten loopholes that have allowed marginally qualified foreign nationals to come to the U.S. with H-1B visas that their cheap labor-addicted employers secure on their behalf. Employers hail the arriving “specialty occupation” workers as the best and the brightest, and allege that their skills are unavailable in the U.S. To the contrary, most of the new arrivals have earned only a bachelor’s degree from overseas institutions whose standards are, for the most part, lower than U.S. universities.
The updated regulations will strengthen the term “specialty occupation,” or as the government described the change – “upskill” – to require H-1B workers to have true specialized training that relates directly to their jobs. At the same time, the new definition will eliminate many of the most egregious H-1B abuses that have ended up with primary school teachers, computer programmers and even pizza delivery workers getting employment-based visas.
Without delving too deeply into the weeds, the administrative changes will, when they take effect, strengthen the approval process for specialty occupations for Labor Condition Applications that will eventually increase wages by about an average of 30 percent for foreign workers’ levels one through four – officially labeled as entry, qualified, experienced and fully competent. The Economic Policy Institute’s Ron Hira and Daniel Costa offer a detailed explanation of prevailing wage levels. By forcing employers to offer more competitive wages to foreign-born job seekers, U.S. tech workers become more attractive.
The revised federal regulations will also help squeeze out nefarious body shops. As the guidelines are currently structured, body shops can contract out an H-1B visa holder to work for another company. Infamously, Disney fired hundreds of tech workers in its Orlando, Fla., office, and replaced them with H-1B workers from HCL America, an India-based body shop intermediary. Another iconic American company, McDonalds, followed the same business plan as Disney, and outsourced its Ohio accounting jobs to lower-cost H-1B visa holders.
While most Americans hail the White House’s action to improve U.S. workers’ standards of living, the usual suspects – immigration lawyers and advocacy lobbies – went ballistic, and threatened legal action. Omnipresent immigration lawyer Greg Siskind, invariably the first to pounce on efforts to slow immigration, tweeted that he and others plan to “quickly file a lawsuit to challenge the onerous DOL wage rule…” And FWD.us, an immigration advocacy group co-founded by Mark Zuckerberg, net worth $76 billion, claimed that the new policies are a “rushed attempt” to “further restrict immigration.”
Siskind and FWD.us reacted as expected. But President Trump is, as he did when he derailed the Tennessee Valley Authority’s effort to outsource the jobs of its skilled employees, acting on behalf of U.S. workers, and making a last ditch effort to restore integrity to the discredited H-1B visa.
When Congress created the H-1B visa and also expanded some immigrant categories as part of the Immigration Act of 1990, annual employment visas soared from 54,000 to 140,000. Because of the 1990 act, over the following two decades, about 20 million work-authorized, foreign nationals arrived, the largest influx recorded in any 20-year period since 1776.
Once associated exclusively with Silicon Valley, H-1B American worker displacement is today widespread as the Disney, TVA and McDonald’s examples confirm. Other H-1B employers include Caterpillar, Abbott Labs and major universities like Ohio State and the University of California, San Francisco and Irvine campuses. Nationwide, the foreign population of white-collar temporary workers includes roughly 650,000 H-1Bs, plus an additional 150,000 foreign nationals working on L-1, Optional Practical Training, and other supposedly temporary visas.
Three decades of U.S. worker displacement is an injustice that President Trump wants to end. The H-1B has hundreds of critics. One of the most prominent is President Carter’s former Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall. Now a University of Texas emeritus economics professor, Marshall called the H-1B “one of the best con jobs ever done on the American public and political systems.” Marshall said that H-1B supporters argue that the U.S. a shortage of college-educated workers, a claim for which there’s no basis. If a shortage existed, U.S. wages wouldn’t remain flat or in decline. Moreover, Marshall concluded that H-1B employees earn below-market rate wages, and employers get away with underpaying H-1B workers.
With only days remaining in his 2020 re-election campaign, the president should maximize his pro-American worker platform, and remind voters of his “Hire American, Buy American” Executive Order.