March 1998 - Abuse of Foreign Workers American Style

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The H-1B "Crisis"

An excerpt from MIGRATION NEWS Vol. 5, No. 3, March, 1998
by Philip Martin, University of California, Davis CA 95616

The debate over whether US high-tech companies really "need" more
temporary foreign workers continued in February,
with critics noting that most high-tech companies:

  (1) hire fewer than five percent of applicants and

  (2) prefer recent graduates and especially foreigners to mid-career
      workers who may have to be retrained.  

Companies say they need people with specific skills to keep projects on track;
critics say that mid-career people can be retrained relatively quickly.

The 1990 IMMACT introduced the H-1B nonimmigrant visa that permits foreign
professionals to enter the US for up to six years.  US employers initiate
the admissions process by attesting that they tried and failed to find US
workers, and that the foreigners are being paid the prevailing wage for the
particular job.
  
There is a cap of 65,000 H-1B visas per year, which was reached for the
first time in August 1997, forcing several thousand H-1B foreigners to wait
until October 1, 1997 to work lawfully.  In FY98, the 65,000 limit is
expected to be reached in May or June 1998.  About 40 percent of H-1B visas
are issued to high-tech workers such as programmers, and this industry has
led the charge to lift or eliminate the 65,000 annual cap. Harris N. Miller
of the Information Technology Association of America told the Senate
Judiciary Committee on February 25 that there are 346,000 vacancies for
computer programmers, or one vacant job for each 10 US information
technology jobs.  According to Miller, the "present H-1B category is
ridiculous.  It was set eight years ago in a time of high unemployment and
well before the present, dramatic growth phase of the high-technology
industry.... too many people who think this [ITAA pressure to increase the
number of H-1B visas] is some sort of subterfuge to bring in a few more
immigrants."

ITAA has many critics.  For example, the Institute for Electrical and
Electronic Engineers (IEEE-USA) believes that better utilization of the
current U.S. work force will allow the supply of high-tech workers to keep
pace with demand.  IEEE-USA maintains that comparing computer science
graduates to the number of vacant jobs can be misleading, since a NSF study
found that less than 30 percent of those holding high-tech jobs had degrees
in computer science, while 35 percent had engineering degrees.

Programming ranks are clearly dominated by young people.  Six years after
finishing a computer science degree, only 57 percent of computer science
graduates are working as programmers.  After 20 years, just 19 percent are
still working as programmers.

Both Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-MI, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA)
support an increase in the H-1B ceiling.  The Clinton Administration on
February 25, 1998 testified that any increases in the H-1B ceiling must be
linked with reforms to ensure that employers try to recruit US workers and
to guarantees that H-1B workers do not replace laid-off US workers:
"Increased immigration should be the last -- not the first -- public policy
response to skills shortages."
  
Three aspects of the H-1B program may be tightened in exchange for
increasing or removing the cap on H-1B visas: (1) no
displacement--requiring US employers to attest that they have not laid off
US workers in order to employ H-1B foreigners; (2) requiring employers to
train US workers; and (3) reducing the duration of the H-1B visa from the
current six years.

The US Department of Labor notes that US employers requesting H-1B workers
must simply assert that they tried and failed to find US workers, for
example, employers do not have to go through a certification process in
which the burden of proof is on the employer to show that he has tried and
failed to find US workers. Instead, the employer attests that he tried and
failed to find US workers, and then is permitted to hire H-1Bs until it can
be proved that the employer is not obeying his attestation. DOL says that,
in practice, the H-1B program "operates often as a probationary employment
program.  Employers bring workers to the United States and, if they perform
well, sponsor them for permanent admission to this country.  This linkage
permits employers to hire foreign workers without first recruiting U.S.
workers."  Many of those hired on H-1B visas are foreign students who get
degrees from US universities. Intel Corp.'s Michael Maibach confirmed the
industry's preference for foreigners who graduate from US universities when
he said "We ought to staple green cards to Ph.D. engineering diplomas... If
we're  going to educate them, let us at least have the chance to hire these
folks and not just push them out of the country."  Several high-tech
companies want the quota eliminated.

Jeri Clausing, "High-Tech Executives Ask for Leeway on Foreign Workers,"
New York Times, February 26, 1998.  John Simons, "High-Tech Firms to Ask
Congress to Ease Immigration Restrictions," Wall Street Journal, February
24, 1998.  Robert Pear, "New Quota Weighed for Immigrant Technology
Workers," New York Times, February 23, 1998.  Umberto Tosi, "An interview
with ITAA President Harris Miller," Tech Web.

UPDATES
  • Jan 96  Hypocrisy
  • Sep 97  Abolish the INS
  • Jan 98  Total breakdown imminent
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