H-1 B-Ware

An imaginary immigration consensus visa.

By From the January-February 2014 issue

Impoverishment, imshmoverishment, comes the reply. Most holders of these specialized visas have college degrees. The unemployment rate for college graduates remains fairly low nationwide, even after the Great Recession. So letting in more of the “best and the brightest” from abroad doesn’t really hurt anything, and can only help.

There are several problems with this cavalier argument. First is that even though holders of bachelor’s degrees are usually also holders of jobs, the employment picture for young Americans even in their late 20s remains bleak. Their unemployment rate in 2013 was 8.8 percent, up from 5.7 percent in 2007. Underemployment stood at 18.8 percent. It was less than 10 percent five years ago.

And those are just the official statistics. The New York Federal Reserve Bank concluded that as of 2012, 44 percent of recent college graduates were unemployed. Immigration and non-immigrant visas are certainly not to blame for these trends. But it simply won’t do to argue that we can open the floodgates because the kids are all right.

It also makes sense to look at the specific sectors impacted by visa-holders. The government itself argued in court filings for an H-1B visa fraud case that “in January of 2009, the total number of workers employed in the information technology occupation under the H-1B program substantially exceeded the 241,000 unemployed U.S. citizen workers within the same occupation.”

Patrick Thibodeau reported in Computer World at the time that, “Estimates of the size of the tech labor force depend on what government labor categories are included.” India-based IT and outsourcing services companies are found near the top of the list of H-1B visa recipients each year.

So if H-1B workers outnumber unemployed techies, and if companies that outsource tech jobs overseas are gobbling up these visas, fears about the domestic employment impact don’t look so unfounded. Note that these figures also don’t take into account the number of people deterred from entering information technology in the first place. IEEE-USA, an organization of electrical and electronics engineers, has asserted there is a strong connection between unemployment in their field and the number of visas issued.

For example, the group notes that the unemployment rate among computer software engineers was 5.2 percent in 2003, back when the annual visa cap was still 195,000. When the cap was lowered sharply to 65,000 in 2004, the unemployment rate for computer software engineers fell rapidly too, all the way down to 3.3 percent.

“Although a number of factors are affecting high-tech employment, including an improving economy and the migration of engineers out of the technical workforce, statistics indicate that U.S. professionals have benefited from a reduction in H-1B visas,” IEEE-USA President John Steadman said in a statement at the time. “Because U.S. industry has been more restricted in its ability to bring overseas guest workers into the country, it has had to hire more U.S. citizens to fill open positions. This is good news for U.S. technical professionals.”

If this is union special pleading, it is hardly worse than the Whitney Houston tributes tech CEOs croon at every opportunity: I believe H-1B visas are the future/grant them often and let them lead the way.

This attitude occasionally even percolates into congressional offices. “There are American workers who, for lack of a better term, can’t cut it,” an aide to Marco Rubio was quoted as saying by the New Yorker. “There shouldn’t be a presumption that every American worker is a star performer. There are people who just can’t get it, can’t do it, don’t want to do it. And so you can’t obviously discuss that publicly.”


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About the Author

W. James Antle III is politics editor of the Washington Examiner and the author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter @jimantle.