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An H-1B cap hike would mean a grim future for workers

Patrick Thibodeau | May 20, 2014
If Congress approves comprehensive immigration reform, it will likely more than double the cap on H-1B visas. What happens then sounds dystopian for workers.

WASHINGTON - If Congress approves comprehensive immigration reform, it will likely more than double the cap on H-1B visas. What would happen then?

Some of the leading academic critics of the H-1B program gathered Friday to talk about the problems the visa program is creating, and what will happen if the cap grows from 85,000 to 180,000, as set in the Senate's immigration bill.

The offshoring of jobs will increase if the H-1B cap is increased, was one warning. As the percentage of guest workers in the IT workforce rises, so will age discrimination for anyone over 35, came another.

The litany of potential woes continued. Hiking the H-1B cap would hurt the ability of Americans to find jobs, wages will suffer, U.S. students may be deterred from science and engineering programs, and America's innovation capacity will decline, said various forum participants.

Those predictions came from a group that included Ron Hira, assistant professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology; Hal Salzman, professor of planning and public policy at Rutgers; Michael Teitelbaum, a senior research associate at Harvard Law School; and Norm Matloff, a professor of computer science at University of California at Davis.

The forum was sponsored by U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). The intent was to dispel the notion of a tech and engineering shortage and to counter high-tech industry lobbying.

Stephen Miller, Sessions' communication director, who introduced the conference call, said immigration reform should make it easier for American college graduates "to find jobs with good pay with rising wages, and it should make it harder for companies to circumvent and avoid hiring Americans."

Hira said science and engineering workers accounts for about 5% of the overall workforce, "but it plays an outside role in economic growth and national security" and paying attention to that sector's health is critical.

"The advocates for more H-1Bs have claimed that there is a systemic widespread shortage of STEM workers," said Hira. The H-1B program is justified as filling gaps in the labor market, but it operates in a way has nothing to do with shortages.

"The majority of the H-1B program is now being used for cheaper workers," said Hira. More than 50% of visas under the cap last year were used by offshore outsourcing firms such as Infosys, Cognizant and Tata Consultancy Services.

The offshore business model is involves bringing in lower-cost H-1B workers and replacing American workers, said Hira. "Instead of complimenting the U.S. workforce, as it should, its actually a substitute for the U.S. workforce and then taking away future opportunities by shipping that work overseas," he said.

The wage floors set in the H-1B program are far below market wages for American workers, and there is no requirement to recruit or look for U.S. workers first, said Hira. "You bring them in to undercut Americans," he said.


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