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Stimulus Package Limits H1-B Visas

Hat-tip to Arpita B.

Solve the Crisis by…Kicking Out the World’s Best and Brightest?
Posted by Michael Clemens at 04:01 PM February 17, 2009

The global economic crisis is already creating pressure for the United States to further restrict skilled migration. The economic stimulus act that President Obama signs today limits the ability of many companies receiving stimulus money to freely employ highly skilled foreign workers on H-1B visas. (Read the Act yourself here.) In other words: If we can just kick out of the United States enough bright and highly skilled workers, many of them top U.S.-trained students from developing countries, the crisis will somehow ease.

That’s just one example of a trend we can expect to grow: Last Friday at Columbia University I publicly debated one of rising number of Americans who feel that the crisis is a reason to welcome drastically fewer people to this country, even highly skilled workers. “Buy American”, via immigration policy, is gaining credibility as a solution to the crisis.

This trend is unfortunate and shameful, for at least three reasons.

Read the rest of the post (including a great graph).


  1. Limited H1-B is a good thing. Corporate America rarely uses H1-B in the way it was intended. In most cases, there are qualified citizens or resident aliens who could do those jobs. H1-B allows them to import cheaper labor which serves as a downward pressure on all I.T. wages. I can’t believe any supposedly leftist blog could favor H1-B.

  2. Once again, reflexive leftist fawning at the altar of diversity trumps economic common sense. H1-B was always the ultimate capitalist wet dream, coupled with its Tweedle-dum twin, outsourcing. If the American left were serious about winning and instituting socialism in this country, it would be hammering constantly on these issues which all American workers know have harmed them, instead of accusing everyone who opposes them of racism. (Of course there is nothing racist about an Indian author calling his fellow countrymen “the best and the brightest”, insinuating that no American could possibly be among them.) I long ago became convinced the American left doesn’t want to win, but remain a permanent loyal opposition movement that gets to make a lot of virtuous-sounding noise and always keeps its hands clean. Roll up the red flags and go home, boys, there will be no revolution today.

  3. I’m so sick of hearing how much smarter and better the Indians are than us!!! I worked at national City where they had hundreds of them working there and many could not hild a candle for the american developers. It took 2 – 3 developers to do the work of one american, but the moronic managers only saw the bottom line of theor hourly rate of $54 per hour. Meanwhile an american contractor may be billing at $80, but get the job done at $80, not $162 ($54×3). Plus this does not include all the jobs National City pushed to India to outsource. Now I hear they are ttalkign to PNC about their outsourcing model and keeping the F’ing Indians employed. WAKE UP AMERICA AND FIGHT FOR YOUR JOBS!!!

  4. David: I have lots of friends who are here on H1-B visas. Given our current set of visa categories, restrictions on H1-B’s = restrictions on immigration. Restriction on immigration, in the stimulus bill, as if that will help the economy, are problematic. That I’m against restrictions on H1-B visas doesn’t mean I’m in favor of them vs. less restrictive visas, or that I’m in favor of guestworker programs per se. *If* immigrants (even in I.T.) put downward pressure on wages (which is far from clear–see below), the solution to that that leftists should push for is more labor organizing, and gov’t policies that allow for more labor organizing, *not* more restrictions on immigration. (I understand, though, that you’re not calling for closed borders the way the other two commenters are.) Two answer the other two commenters: Anonymous: why shouldn’t leftists and socialists try to organize on behalf of everyone, including immigrant workers? As for the rest of your post: The author of this article isn’t Indian! See above about why the point is not about restrictions of H1-B, but restrictions of immigration. Randreis, your insider perspective is interesting. But again, why are U.S. workers more worthy of our consideration than immigrant workers? Organize against the bosses, not other workers.

  5. Tour any large or medium U.S. company and the H1B impact becomes apparent. Where are the American workers?I’ve worked in I.T. for 3 decades, the past decade at a large U.S. company. Since 2001, I’ve noticed a significant increase in dumping qualified U.S. workers across the age and experience spectrum. Abuse of American and H1B workers is rampant. For many H1B workers, it’s their first job…they’re learning on the job. Skills are below to average and their foreign technical institutes have one mission: to prepare for work in U.S. companies, to get American’s jobs . American workers of all ages aren’t getting the same opportunities from the U.S. Also, what’s not often mentioned is H1B workers are frequently paid MORE than Americans! And, many times their qualifications are questionable! Fraud in hiring practices is rampant. What’s occurring is criminal. Is this the global economy management being taught in American business schools? Like most workers, those of us fortunate to still be employed don’t raise ethics violations for fear of losing jobs and the possibility of our next boss being H1B. Many H1B coworkers are friends and I wish them every success in life. However, I’m concerned by what corporations are doing to my fellow citizens and my country AND by the exploitation of H1B labor. I’m deeply concerned for U.S. workers and the American middle class. It’s time to pressure the U.S. Congress as well as State and Local government officials to support American labor.

  6. “why are U.S. workers more worthy of our consideration than immigrant workers?”The mentality behind this attitude boggles the mind. I’ll guarantee that the poster doesn’t work in any field where his or her job can vanish due to H1-B or outsourced labor. Probably an academic. Organizing against bosses requires organizing against H1-B and outsourcing. H1-B workers are scabs.

  7. Anonymous: I agree that organizing against bosses requires organizing against H1-B as a category and outsourcing as a practice. But you slide from this to saying that H1-B workers are scabs, and you sound like you want not to organize them, but to organize *against* them. So I repeat my question: Why are U.S.-born workers more worthy of our solidarity than immigrant workers? What’s problematic about H1-B as a category is that it undermines organizing and solidarity, allows bosses to divide and conquer. But it’s the bosses lowering the wages, not the H1-B workers.I’m not an academic–I don’t have a boss, since D&S is a co-op, but academia provides an interesting example of a similar phenomenon. Who are the “scabs” in academia? They are the grad student teachers and adjuncts–many of them immigrants. They aren’t so much driving down tenured faculty salaries (those are skyrocketing through the “star” system) as undermining tenure altogether. What is the solution? Organize the adjuncts and grad students! Am I wrong? (Sorry–I just saw the Big Lebowski, and can’t help quoting the John Goodman character after a rant like that. I should have slipped something in about ‘Nam, too.)

  8. Guest worker programs of any kind are inherently problematic. Any immigrant who depends on his or her employer for their status is unable to organize against that employer. I’ve known a lot of H1-B workers. It’s impossible not to in my field. They’re not even able to force their employers to follow the meager labor laws and customs that we have here in the states.You ask why U.S. born workers are worthy of our solidarity. First and foremost, I want to call you on multiple red-herrings in that single statement. It’s not about where you were born. I feel the same solidarity with a naturalized citizen or a green card holder. You’ll note that even in my first comment I said “citizens or resident aliens”. There are multiple reasons for that. The first is a matter of practical strategy. Like it or not, labor law operates on a national basis. Within these borders, we have a legal and a political framework that allows us to achieve certain things. Whatever solidarity we may have with someone outside of our borders, our organizing efforts are only going to have concrete results within these borders. Beyond the practical, though, American workers have put in more than a hundred years of organizing and building their institutions. If, to take the most common example, Indian IT workers want higher wages, they should be organizing in India rather than undermining both the organizing work and the wages that have been achieved within these borders.

  9. Thanks for your further thoughts, David. Part of the problem here is that I am responding to multiple commenters whose views are slightly different. A couple of points, though:(1) I never asked why U.S.-born workers are worthy of our solidarity–it is clear that they are! The question is whether they are worthy of our solidarity to the exclusion of immigrant workers, whatever their immigration status. (I think you understood that, but I was just a little worried that the way you phrased your last comment made it sound otherwise.)(2) I agree that we should oppose any guestworker program. The agenda behind the crackdown on undocumented workers under Bush was clearly to generate support among employers for a guestworker program. To the extent that H1-B visas constitute a guestworker program, I oppose them.(3) But I still think immigration restrictions are a creepy response to the economic crisis. Seems to me that labor and leftists should favor reducing restrictions, bringing whatever workers happen to be here under labor law, fighting for real enforcement of labor law, organizing workers whatever their status. With all that said, your comments and those of the tech workers who have posted have shown me how complex the issue is. Let me be a reflexive fawning leftist for a bit longer, though, and talk about some of the complexities:–The tech sector is probably one clear area where H1-B visas put downward pressure on wages (similarly with outsourcing). Elsewhere in the economy, though, immigrant workers (especially the undocumented) often occupy *new* job categories, so aren’t crowding out U.S.-born workers or depressing their wages. What’s more, immigrant workers–or let’s call them “migrants,” so as not to beg questions about the importance of national borders to these issues–are often more militant than U.S.-born workers (think of < HREF="http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2009/0109lydersentracy.html" REL="nofollow">these workers<>, for a recent example). < HREF="http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2006/0906ness.html" REL="nofollow">Here’s<> an article from D&S that makes these arguments.Where have the hundred + of years of organizing in the U.S. gotten us? It’s been eroded over the last thirty. Labor is on the ropes–lowest labor density since WWII (though there have been upticks in the past couple of years–I’d bet it’s because of migrants organizing). Migrant workers often come from societies with more vibrant labor movements and left political movements. Cross-border organizing is not only practical, but absolutely essential to revitalizing the labor movement here. David Bacon has written on this in our pages (his most recent article was in the < HREF="http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2008/0908toc.html" REL="nofollow">Sept-Oct issue<>–it’s not posted online).So–I’m against H1-B visas and any kind of guestworker program, but I still find restricting them as a response to economic crisis a little creepy. You all have motivated me to find out more about it, though, e.g. it was Bernie Sanders, whom I respect, who co-sponsored that part of the stim. bill I think, and I’d like to hear what his arguments are.

  10. I can agree with point #3 entirely. My opposition to H1-Bs well precedes the current economic crisis. As a response to the current crisis, yeah, I can see where that could make someone uncomfortable. I’m more looking at this as an opportunity to limit something that I’ve long opposed. I’m not against migration or migrants. Mexican immigrants are the beating heart of what service sector growth the unions have seen in recent years (at least in the west and south).On principle, I’d rather agitate against all guest worker programs in favor of open borders and amnesty for all who are here. I can see no scenario where guest worker programs create anything other than a second class worker whose lack of rights and bargaining power undermines all workers’ interests (blue or white collar, organized or not). I’ve never seen a case made by anyone for how the H1-B program serves any progressive interest. I’m not accusing you of this, but where I’ve seen the left try to defend it at all, it’s mostly been by implying that any opposition to it is prima facie evidence of racism and xenophobia by its opponenets.Thanks for your responses. I’ve enjoyed the debate.

  11. David–thanks for your response. I think we pretty much agree, and I thank you and the other posters for reminding me that H1-B is essentially a guestworker program and that we should oppose such programs. Nice debate.

  12. i do have sympathy and feeling for an homegrown individual to express it’s anger on the foreign national on taking there jobs as been discussed in this blog.And i do agree there are persons who on less pay so called labor or slave as you are calling does the same worker with 24*7 (365 days),which i guess an impossible scenario for an American worker,killing his/her personal life just for sake of having a bit good life back at home and showing it’s potential as a skilled labor,though having the degree equivalent to a American worker,(may lack in the exp),but always ready to cope to different technology readily and deliver. Doesn’t those deserve something? Every system has flaws and people take advantage, so is the H1-B status. Why not have one screen process for American worker and multiple screen process for foreign national, that will solve the distinction.America is a leading power due to globalization.go back to history and check the invention list and debar those invention stop using it. check in the universities and college throw out the foreign nationals, your institutions will be empty.Check for the curriculum practised back in foreign national countries and toughness in there and then compare.

  13. I’ve been floored by all of the press, particularly from Immigration attorneys (who naturally earn their living from processing visas) that continues to claim that by requiring stricter H1b justification for companies receiving the additionally money, the US is kicking out the “best and the brightest.” I’ve spent the past four years in IT staffing, and I can tell you that there may have been one person in hundreds that I thought was even remotely comparable to their American peers. Furthermore, I have worked with colleagues who are from India who shared their experiences as having begun as an IT recruiter in India at which one person with significant programming knowledge was paid to interview on behalf of all the other people who either did not have the knowledge or communication skills to pass the interview. The company would make an offer, and the person would receive his/her visa and be off to the US to work. Naturally, the company would realize that this couldn’t be the person, but after all the expense, they just dealt with it. I have yet to find a single company that makes a decision to hire an H1b based upon their being the “best and the brightest.” It’s all driven by how much money they have to spend. The visa program has been used by American corporations as an answer to low unemployment and increasing wages, particularly in the technical industry. It was a way for major corporations to pay $20-30/hr for a Java developer 5-8 years ago, rather than $100/hr. The situation is moot now, because the longer the H1bs have been here, the better their communication and skills have increased, so their wages have been brought in line with the Americans (for the most part, I’ve only seen a discrepancy of 10%, if that). Now, with unemployment rising, I’m seeing technical personnel taking pay cuts of 50% in Atlanta to take a position. Outside of significantly technical positions (like physicians or scientists), I think H1b visas should be revoked. The Americans who are willing to take that position for the salary are willing to do it now, they are more capable to do the position, and even more importantly, the earnings they make will be spent on homes in the US, school systems in the US and more. Regardless of the status of the stimulus bill, I think Americans should contact their congressmen and get a bill passed that drastically reduces the number of H1bs we have in the US. Of course, from what I’ve been told in certain companies, that would only punish those who are actually in compliance. That does not count for the companies who are employing personnel with expired visas.

  14. Here is the problem with this visa.  It is used as an outsourcing tool .  Without the h1b visa holders, all offshoring would come to a grinding halt.  I am surprised that no one has mentioned this yet.  The h1bs are contributing directly to knowledge transfer and offshoring.  It has the opposite effect.  All the arguments that it brings jobs here and keeps them from being off shored are false.  I know how this is done.  A few h1bs are brought here.  One of them is made the manager.  The offshore facility usually has 4-5 employees per person here.  The manager is also made the boss of the existing American employees.  They are forced to transfer knowledge to the h1bs.  Each of the h1bs transfers the knowledge to 3-4 offshore employees.  The department soon moves offshore.  The whole thing is insidious.  The American employees are given no work while they train the h1bs.  Their job is simply to train.  Since their manager is himself an h1b, they have to agree.  The knowledge transfer happens at the speed of light with instant messaging and morning phone calls with offshore employees in which everyone has to participate.
    The offshore quality sucks but you cannot compete with a 10 to 1 ratio of employees working at one tenth the price.  The h1b visa does not bring jobs here.  That is a lie and the corporations know it. 
    The h1bs that came here in th 80s brought their jobs here and did not offshore them.  They bought houses and cars and paid taxes here.  The technology did not exist to be able to offshore American jobs.  There was no Internet and email and instant message.  It is different now and the h1b is no longer good for America.
    There is no reason to target the software industry professionals with this kind of competition.  Find a better way.

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