In my post yesterday, I should have mentioned another crucial point about the $60,000 threshhold.
As I explained yesterday, this bar only applies to the issue of the extra “hoops” that H-1B dependent employers must jump through. Currently, in order to be exempt from these hoops, an employer must pay at least $60K. This number was set way back in 1998, and the authors of H.R. 170 make a big point of noting that the figure was not indexed for inflation. H.R. 170 would modernize the figure to at least $90,000, and have it updated for inflation in future years.
This is highly misleading. It is NOT the case that under current law, an employer who wants to avoid the hoops can typically get away with paying an H-1B worker only $60K. The reason is that the employer is still subject to the prevailing wage requirement. Prevailing wage is a lowball figure to begin with, actually the worst aspect of the statute and regs, but still, it’s much higher than $60K. In 2014, for example, the national mean salary for H-1Bs in the computer fields was $83,000.
In discussions of H.R. 170 and earlier proposals, it has become common for the authors to refer to that $60K figure as a “loophole.” But again, that is very misleading, for the above reason.
The REAL loophole is the four-tiered prevailing wage system. As I have emphasized so strongly over the years, the core problem with H-1B is that it allows employers to hire younger, thus cheaper, H-1Bs instead of older, thus more expensive, U.S. citizens and permanent residents. The four-tired system, with its tiers based on experience level, a proxy for age, is the enabler of that core problem.
H.R. 170 does replace the four-tiered system by a single tier in the case of H-1B dependent employers if they place workers at the sites of clients. Fine, but as I explained yesterday, in the end it will still be business as usual, with employers having a number of workarounds at their disposal.
Please note again: The value of an H-1B reform bill can ONLY be defined by its ultimate impact on American workers. Feel Good bills that claim to “at least solve part of the problem” but actually have no impact are worthless.
If the authors of the bill want to live up to their claims to protect American workers, they need to replace the four-tiered system entirely. The bill could be extremely short (“Fits on a postcard”), simply saying that all H-1B workers must be paid at least the 50th percentile (DPE has proposed the 75th percentile, much better) of wages in the given occupation and region.
The other approach, which has been mentioned by many, would be to dole out the visas in order of offered salary, highest first. Simple, and something that could be legitimately done by executive order. Actually, I would prefer that it be ranking by scaled salary, i.e. ratio of salary to median for the occupation and region, so that the computer fields don’t have unfair access to the visas.