An Open Response to "H-1B Visas Take American Jobs" by Phyllis Schlafly
by Charles Foster on March 29, 2012 at 9:36 AM
The criticism by Phyllis Schlafly of the H-1B visa classification in H-1B Visas Take American Jobs is misplaced and is never put in any context so that the reader can appreciate the significance of the H-1B visa program. The H-1B visa is a temporary non-immigrant work visa restricted to professionals within a specialty occupation who are being paid at least the prevailing wage for the position as established by the United States Department of Labor. As a practical matter, the U. S. Department of Labor’s determination is always on the high side. Most employers’ reaction to the prevailing wage is that it is significantly above what is paid within their experience.
Furthermore, the H-1B classification is restricted to 65,000 numbers per year. When you consider the size of the American economy, such number is insignificant.
Most important, every American, including every American politician, will say, “We want individuals to immigrate legally,” and yet for all practical purposes, the H-1B classification is the principal way to immigrate legally except for individuals who have adult U. S. citizen children or a spouse or parents. You cannot have it both ways; you cannot say we want people to immigrate legally and yet oppose all legal options to do so. The reason we have large numbers of illegal aliens who enter the country to do non-professional work is because there is no viable legal system except for the limited number of professionals that can enter under the H-1B provision. Eliminate that and for all practical purposes, as a country we are saying we want people to come in legally, but we oppose any and all legal programs that would permit same.
Large numbers of H-1B visas are used for researchers in the Medical Center, bilingual and Special Ed teachers in public and private schools, professors with unique skill sets in universities and yes, engineers and IT professionals. It is true that in a bad economy some engineers will go unemployed, which begs the question: why are other engineers being sponsored for H-1B visas? It is not because they are willing to work cheap or at a salary less than what U. S. workers are being paid. To the contrary, the cost of employing an H-1B worker is greater than hiring locally. Employers act in their own self-interest. If in fact there are qualified engineers available employers will not go through a complex legal process that requires additional cost and often payment of a salary greater than what the employer would be paying a local U. S. worker. If one believes in the free market, you must also believe that employers acting in their own self-interest are only hiring foreign nationals where they are not able to find the same skill set available to them in the U. S. market. With the rapid changes in technology undoubtedly there are U. S.-trained engineers that are unable to find a job as readily as more recent engineering graduates, but that has nothing to do with the H-1B program. The same engineers are primarily competing with younger U. S. engineers who have graduated more recently and who have training in areas that older engineers may not have received.
There are a number of misstatements made by Ms. Schlafly. The H-1B program actually goes back to the 1970’s and was originally for individuals of distinguished merit and ability and was amended in 1990 for individual in specialty occupations requiring a minimum of a 4-year university degree. The number of H-1B visa applications was only then limited to 65,000 per year. It was never a requirement that the U. S. employer had to establish that they could not find a qualified and willing U. S. worker. That is only required if they wish to keep the H-1B worker longer than 6 years in order to qualify such individual for Lawful Permanent Residency.
Another misunderstanding was there was never a requirement to “make it illegal for an employer to replace an American with an H-1B worker.” While that may happen, as a practical matter, it happens every day with U. S. workers. U. S. workers are replaced with other U. S. workers by employers and a very small, insignificant percentage of same would be replaced by a foreign national working in H-1B status. It would be unusual for a conservative to prefer the substitution of a governmental decision for an employer’s decision as to which worker is the most qualified for any given position at any given time.
Ms. Schlafly is also wrong when she says big companies prefer H-1B workers because “they can pay them significantly less than Americans.” This is patently not true. By law, they must pay them the “prevailing wage” which is established by the U. S. Department of Labor and which tends to be much higher than what U. S. workers with similar education and experience are paid.
The statement that, “Most H-1B workers are imported for entry level jobs and trained by experienced U. S. workers who are then laid off,” is purely anecdotal. While that may occur occasionally, to say that all professional foreign workers who enter the United States who come in at entry level are trained by an individual they are replacing is a gross overstatement. In fact, most H-1B workers come in either because of a unique, highly specialized training and experience or where U. S. workers are not readily available in the job market where there is simply a shortage of sufficient U. S. workers.
Ms. Schlafly has no basis at all where she is quoted as saying, “Thousands of qualified Americans remain out of work while companies are incentivized to import foreign workers.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Companies are not incentivized in any way. In fact, the cost of employing a foreign national not only in terms of the cost for the legal representation of the company’s employees to acquire appropriate visa status, but the cost of transportation, housing, etc. causes the foreign worker in fact to be far more costly for the company. Companies act in their own self-interest. If there are available U. S. workers, it would be unusual for a U. S. company to hire a foreign worker if they could find a readily available qualified U. S. employee.
Ms. Schlafly is also wrong when she infers that the spouses of U. S. workers are authorized to work or there is any proposal to allow them to do so. President Obama has supported expanding the H-1B’s and it has been supported by the leading Republican candidates for the presidency and a number of leading U. S. entrepreneurs, including Bill Gates who testified before Congress saying that it was impossible to qualify sufficient highy skilled IT professionals and that if Congress could not expand the H-1B quota, he would have no choice but to move Microsoft’s research center to Canada. When Congress failed to expand the numbers of H-1B workers, in fact Microsoft did set up a research center across the Washington State line in Canada where there were fewer restrictions on hiring the most qualified individuals. Microsoft was paying the highest salaries at that time, but still could not fill all available positions.
Ms. Schlafly also says, “Some people are even pushing the ridiculous notion of stapling a green card to college diplomas where foreigners would automatically be allowed to stay and work in our country.” In fact, such statement has been widely attributed to columnist Thomas Friedman and has been quoted favorably by Governor Mitt Romney along with Speaker Newt Gingrich, but to paraphrase the real quote, it was, “When highly qualified individuals come to the United States, are trained in the United States and get advanced degrees, we should encourage them to remain in the United States rather than taking their knowledge back to their home country.” There are many studies that show that every professional that is fully employed in the U. S. pays substantially more sums into the U. S. government than they receive. So, it’s a net benefit for our country.
The most ridiculous statement is the reference to the 57,000 Chinese undergraduates now in U. S. universities when she says, “Most of whom were admitted on the basis of fake transcripts and recommendation letters and awarded college degrees for which they did not qualify.” That would surprise major Ivy League and other great state universities where foreign students, particularly Chinese students, make up a very high percentage of graduate students in Master and PhD programs and who graduate at the top of their class.
In short, Ms. Schlafly is more concerned with rhetoric than facts.