The Trump administration has an historic opportunity to find out, once and forever, if Silicon Valley employers are truly dependent on imported foreign labor, primarily the H-1B visa.
The 2020 lottery that will grant 85,000 new H-1B visas is over and done. But imagine that President Trump did the right thing, and announced that allowing 85,000 new workers into the U.S. during this period of rising unemployment, which the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank predicted may exceed 32 percent, and nationwide economic turmoil, is against the best interests of the U.S. President Trump could add, truthfully, that to allow 85,000 overseas workers into the U.S. as the coronavirus rages on would unnecessarily expose them to dangerous and possibly fatal health risks.
Although immigration advocates would oppose visa restrictions even though unemployment and health crises grow greater daily, they would look foolish and self-serving. The Indian lobby, nevertheless, has taken the extraordinary step of asking a federal judge through its lawyers to commandeer immigration- making decisions from President Trump and suspend the routine visa deadlines for about 2 million workers.
President Trump should allow foreign-born workers whose H-1B visas have expired to self-deport instead of, as the Indian lobby has requested, extending by six months their grace period. Under the H-1B guidelines, unemployed H-1B visa holders have 60 days to find another job or return home.
Assuming the Trump administration carried out today’s imaginary scenario to the full extent – 85,000 visas voided, expired H-1B visas expiration dates enforced, and immigrant workers self-deported – the president and other immigration skeptics would soon learn to what degree, if any, fewer employment-based visas have on businesses that claim to be dependent on them. Educated guess: none.
The H-1B scam has gone on long enough. Over the last three decades, the H-1B has displaced tens of thousands of experienced U.S. tech workers and has created financial and emotional heartache for Americans who have lost their jobs to younger, less-skilled but cheaper-to-employ overseas workers.
Here’s a prime example. In a story titled “It’s Tough Being Over 40 in Silicon Valley,” Bloomberg quoted Michael Welch, a San Francisco employment lawyer, who identified Facebook, Apple, Google, Tesla, LinkedIn and HP as industries that “phase out” older workers for younger, cheaper ones. The Bay Area’s tech companies are singularly uninterested in and even distrustful of long résumés. “Phase out” means fire, and “long résumés” indicate that the job applicant is a skilled worker, likely an American. Before the H-1B visa became a well-known, widely used tech industry displacement tool, workers frequently spent their entire careers in the field, gradually earning increasing pay as they advanced.
Ten years ago, Ron Hira in his Economic Policy Institute article, wrote that the H-1B visa and its L-1 cousin were “out of control.” Hira, a respected Howard University public policy professor, wrote that both of these visa programs need “immediate and substantial overhaul.” The original goals of the H-1B and L visa were to admit foreign nationals who complement the U.S. workforce. Instead, wrote Hira, “Loopholes in both programs have made it too easy to bring in cheaper foreign workers, with ordinary skills, who directly substitute for, rather than complement, workers already in the country. They are clearly displacing and denying opportunities to U.S. workers.”
Another prominent labor economist, Harvard University professor Lawrence F. Katz, agreed with Hira. Katz told The New York Times that employers like the H-1B visa program because it expands the labor pool which means paying lower salaries. The two big H-1B winners are, concluded Katz, “the workers who come here with H-1B visas and the companies that employ them.”
In the decade since Hira’s cautionary article, the federal government has approved about 1 million H-1B visas, and allowed employers to use the cap-free L visa to transfer their international employees and their families to the U.S. The great deal for the L visa holders and their families includes lifelong valid work permits and citizenship for all!
Today, President Trump has a golden chance to convert his campaign promise to “reform legal immigration to serve the best interests of America and its workers, the forgotten people” into reality. What choice President Trump makes will say volumes about his commitment to U.S. workers.