90 Miles From Tyranny : Surprise! There’s hope for meaningful H-1B reform

Friday, February 17, 2017

Surprise! There’s hope for meaningful H-1B reform

The myth of a STEM crisis

The Bureau for Labor Statistics says the United States graduates well over 100,000 STEM students annually. And wages for U.S. workers in computer and math fields have largely stagnated since 2000, as STEM workers struggle to find employment and many companies, including IBM and Symantec, lay off thousands of STEM workers.

“If there was really a STEM labor market crisis, you’d be seeing very different behaviors from companies,” says Ronil Hira, an associate professor of public policy at Howard University who has testified before Congress on this issue. “You wouldn’t see companies cutting their retirement contributions, or hiring new workers and giving them worse benefits packages. Instead, you would see signing bonuses, you’d see wage increases. You would see these companies really training their incumbent workers. None of those things are observable,” Hira says. “In fact, they’re operating in the opposite way.”

American workers first

President Trump recently waded into the melee. While details remain sketchy, a leaked draft executive order vows to overhaul the program. The proposal reads in part:

Our country’s immigration policies should be designed and implemented to serve, first and foremost, the U.S. national interest. Visa programs for foreign workers … should be administered in a manner that protects the civil rights of American workers and current lawful residents, and that prioritizes the protection of American workers—our forgotten working people—and the jobs they hold.
Many will applaud that goal. Critics of H-1B visas, like the IEEE, argue the program has evolved into “a pipeline for a few big companies to hire cheap labor.” Tech giants like Amazon, Apple, Google, Intel, and Microsoft are among the top 20 H-1B employers, but Indian outsourcing firms Tata, Infosys, Wipro, and Cognizant receive the vast majority of H-1B visas issued. The U.S. Customs and Immigration Service says Indian nationals accounted for 70.9 percent of all H1-B visa beneficiaries in 2015.Hira points out that the median wage for H-1B workers at outsourcing firms was less than $70,000, while Apple, Google, and Microsoft paid their H-1B employees more than $100,000. That suggests those companies are genuinely going after highly skilled employees, while outsourcers are recruiting less expensive talent, he said.

“However, while Indian companies take the brunt of the blame for bringing in foreign tech workers, the majority of all Fortune 500 companies use these outsourcing firms on work projects and are direct beneficiaries of the H-1B visa system,” points out Forbes. Companies like Disney, FedEx, and Southern California Edison contract with these outsourcers, and all too often, their American workers end up training H-1B visa-holding replacements who work for below-market wages.

One InfoWorld reader, who wished to remain anonymous to protect his job, referred to the “H-1B carnage” among American IT workers in the Midwest. “Everyone thinks I am crazy for staying in technology,” he wrote. “Tons of American IT worker parents, displaced by cheaper foreign visa workers, advise their kids to avoid programming and technology as a career. They are happy to see the changes from ...

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