Yes, H-1Bs tend to be underpaid. But a Massachusetts state government program has given new meaning to the term “cheap labor.” And maybe even new meaning to the notion of “sneaking through a hole in the fence.”
The MA program is simple. H-1Bs working for universities aren’t subject to the yearly visa cap. So, the state hires the foreign worker to spend a few token hours per week at some university, and voila! — they get their visa and full work rights in the U.S. See this blog post by a prominent immigration lawyer for the legal details.
So it’s a bizarre new twist on the H-1Bs-as-cheap-labor idea. The article notes about one of the lucky foreign workers,
It’s one of the lowest paying jobs O’Connell says he’s had in years, but he doesn’t mind — he gets a visa and the chance to launch his company in the U.S., which he’s now doing.
The MA program, GEIR, recognizes that it operates as a blatant ruse:
Through the GEIR, universities will partner with the Commonwealth to provide valuable, relevant part-time work opportunities which will initiate a cap-exempt H-1B visa application process. Participating universities will act as the “sponsor” for filing cap-exempt H-1B petitions for graduates with advanced degrees who want to grow their companies but cannot due to a lack of available H-1B visa slots. This part-time employment authorization will enable the entrepreneur’s start-up company to apply for the entrepreneur’s work authorization, also in a cap-exempt visa category, and ultimately will allow the company, and new high-skill jobs, to grow here in Massachusetts.
Note that even GEIR encloses their word sponsor in quotation marks. Wink, wink, nod, nod. Former governor Deval Patrick is actually quite proud of the MA ruse, which he had originally developed.
Those who love the H-1B visa will say, in almost religious tones, “Ah, but O’Connell is starting a business!” Fine, but his business sounds iffy, and the vast majority of startups with much better promise than his end up in failure. In any case, the beneficiary apparently need not be the actual employer, just a worker who is helping to “grow the business.”
Granted, this program is currently small, and since funding is limited, presumably only the very best students would be accepted into it; they may not meet my personal “best and brightest” standard, but the standard would be reasonably high.
But how can anyone stand for this government-sanctioned gross fraud? Where are those who single out the Indian IT services firms as abusing H-1B because “the visa was never intended to be used” in a rent-a-programmer context? I’ve always said this is a fallacious argument, because if there is a labor shortage it doesn’t matter if it is remedied via a broker; this doesn’t violate legislative intent at all. But clearly Congress never meant the cap exemption for universities to be used in the role of fake employers. Really, is this all that different from attaining a green card through a fake marriage to an American? I wonder what the Morrisons and Donnellys have to say about this.