H-1B Math — Your Guide to Proposed Legislation

As discussed in a previous posting, the Issa bill to “reform” the H-1B work visa has passed committee, and is getting a lot of press (mostly non-factual). The Durbin-Grassley bill, introduced in several past Congresses, is said to be coming back soon. In addition, the RAISE Act, which would move green card eligibility to a more skills-based policy, has been endorsed by the White House and is being vigorously promoted by the various immigration reform (i.e. restrictionist) groups. How would U.S. citizen/permanent resident tech professionals fare under these proposals?

I will address this question here. Note that this will not be a detailed, clause-by-clause analysis, but rather a high-level analysis based on what is the only appropriate criterion:

Would the given proposal improve job prospects for Americans?

Anything else is irrelevant, and (inadvertent or deliberate) distraction. As the saying goes, “Keep your eyes on the prize.”

Putting RAISE aside for the moment, let’s consider Issa and D-G. Both of these proposals are designed to redistribute H-1B visas, for which there is a far larger demand than supply, from the “Infosyses” to the “Intels.” Did you catch that key word? Redistribute! Neither bill would reduce the number of visas. As Prof. Ron Hira put it (in a slightly different light), the bill “simply shuffles the deck chairs on the Titanic.” Thus neither bill would improve job prospects for Americans.

Of course, that analysis doesn’t work if you believe that the Intels are angels who are using these programs responsibly. Under that belief, the visas would be used for jobs for which qualified Americans don’t exist, so the foreign workers wouldn’t be hired in lieu of Americans. I’ve presented lots of data demonstrating that this is simply false, and Congress’ own commissioned report, which actually surveyed employers, also showed it to be false. These firms are out to maximize profit, which I have no objection to at all, but it does show that their protestations that “We’d love to hire Americans,  but sadly there are no Americans available” can’t be taken at face value. As one manager at Intel told me,

It’s a matter of what are the mechanisms, how does a hiring manager in Silicon Valley get a hold of resumes? What happens is, you get a lot of H-1B resumes. I had to go out myself, instead of relying on the Personnel Department, to go and advertise at several colleges where I thought I would be able to find some good employees. And lo and behold, I found a very good one at Cal Poly, Pomona.

In other words, Issa and D-G would bring NO CHANGE for American tech workers. Shifting the visas from the Infosyses to the Intels (which actually wouldn’t happen, for reasons I’ve given before, but let’s say the bills succeed in their redistribution goal) would not improve job prospects for U.S. techies. Some would have more jobs open to them, balanced by an equal number of Americans who would now have fewer jobs available. To borrow Ron’s metaphor, different Americans would now have chairs to sit in than before, but the same number would be sitting/standing as before.

But it’s even worse than that, due to the industry’s continuing call for Staple a Green Card to Their Diplomas legislation, under which foreign STEM students at U.S. universities would get a fast track green card, likely with a wait time of only about two years (some currently are waiting 10 years or more); they would work under a new special visa in the interim. The Intels generally sponsor their H-1Bs for green cards, which the Infosyses don’t, so Staple is basically an Intels proposal.

The Intels would push for Staple for the simple reason that, again, they want to expand the young labor pool. As I’ve stated many times, H-1B is fundamentally about age; young workers are cheaper than older workers, and the H-1Bs are young. Expanding the H-1B program itself — note by the way that that is what would happen in effect with that special interim visa — is not enough for the Intels, because they fear that a lot of potential foreign students will stay away from the U.S. due to the 10-year wait for a green card.

And Congress, by enacting either Issa or D-G, would be endorsing the Intels Good, Infosyses Bad notion. If you believe in IGIB, Staple then makes perfect sense, a logical followup to Issa/D-G.

Note that this same dynamic would occur with RAISE. The Intels don’t want to hire a 40-year engineer who immigrates to the U.S. under RAISE. So if RAISE starts to gain traction on the Hill, the Intels will say, “Fine, we support that, but we need you to fold Staple into the bill.”

Again, all of this would lead to a greatly expanded young tech labor pool. Whether the expansion consists of green card holders or not is really irrelevant.

Bottom line: Issa, D-G and RAISE would make things worse for American tech workers. Not better, not neutral, but WORSE. This may be an “inconvenient truth” for the immigration reform organizations, but that is the reality.

46 thoughts on “H-1B Math — Your Guide to Proposed Legislation

  1. >> This may be an “inconvenient truth” for the immigration reform firms, but that is the reality

    They will not be quoting this post (and you) on their social platform and will pretend (like in the past) as if this never happened.


    • I’ve known and respected the staffers and leaders in the immigration reform groups for 25 years. Unfortunately, many have supported IGIB, for which I have gently chided them for the last 3-4 years at least. Some have responded fairly well, others not at all.


  2. >> Would the given proposal improve job prospects for Americans?

    It will *never* improve as long as there are people who have *fewer* rights in marketplace.Sans a moratorium on all sorts of immigration from “populous” nations (aka India), this issue will not be fixed. Remember, they are replacing the workforce with ‘younger’ population from India and not from Timbuktu or Indonesia.

    >>some currently are waiting 10 years or more

    Its more like “half a century to three and a half centuries” https://www.cato.org/blog/no-one-knows-how-long-legal-immigrants-will-have-wait

    But technically, you are correct – it’s “10 or more”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Norm, is there *any* proposal currently on the table that would have the one key effect of *increasing* job opportunities for U.S. tech workers? Who is/are sponsoring it, if there is such a thing? If not, why is there no worker-centered proposal out there?

    I’d be interested in seeing a survey of U.S. voters (not just tech workers) with the question put simply, “Would you support an immigration visa reform bill that does not increase the opportunities for U.S. high-tech workers?” Just that one question!!


    • One excellent proposal in the Executive Branch under current consideration would roll back the extension of OPT. Another would revoke the work rights for H-1B spouses, the H-4s. (I do think the spouses should be allowed to work, but only if they are counted in the H-1B cap.)

      There are other things that could be done in the Executive Branch. For instance, NSF research grants should give priority to American students over foreign students. (Not a radical proposal. NSF fellowships are already restricted to Americans.)


  4. Since these companies can’t find americans to do the work (which I really think is a lie), why aren’t the politicians sounding the alarm and creating the educational environment to solve this problem? There is no reason that by the time a student leaves high school or at least a four year college that he can’t have learned the basic skills that it takes to work for these companies. What is India and China doing that the U.S. is not doing?


    • Bureau of labor statistics says 75% of STEM degree’d aren’t working in STEM. 50% of US STEM grads can’t find a STEM job.
      Bank of America CEO says immigration is the “easiest” way to gin up consumer market. Bloomberg said they know it’s causing unemployment.
      What China and India are doing is sending cheap visa indentured. “Services”, part of our “trade deficit”.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I knew this whole thing was a goddamn farce because Canada has a much higher rate of unemployment in STEM than does the US.

      Computer science graduates from good universities like U of Waterloo, Toronto, Ryerson, York, McMaster, UBC, Alberta beg for jobs with the 5 big banks, 3 telecom companies and other protected oligarchies and yet make peanuts.

      If it was all about finding talent you could hire tomorrow, you’d see Canadians moving to the US not Indians


  5. Thank you for laying this out so the everyman/woman can understand the issue.

    It’s difficult enough to grab their attention about H1B, and even harder to communicate the DC shell have played by both parties.

    I’ll link to this article and hope to swamp your hosting provider with visits in the process.


  6. I agree, but we must insist that CIS report the total number of STEM man-years it authorizes each year under each visa program, which shouldn’t be so difficult to determine given that CIS must authorize them and any extensions of them. It is the STEM man-years — not just the number of first-time H-1B visas given annually to non-research for-profit enterprises as currently reported, ignoring their durations, renewals, extensions, and those working for non-profit or governmental research organizations — that affect the number of Americans and permanent residents hired.

    The “intels” and “infosyses” affect workers of US origin (by which I include all legal STEM workers, whether US citizens or not, who were not first employed in the US on work visas) in different ways. The body shops certainly lower the market price by increasing supply and undercutting the price of the hire, but they rarely if ever sponsor H-1Bs for green cards. But the “intels” (the US companies that directly sponsor H-1Bs) often seek long-term employees they can sponsor for permanent residence and keep almost as indentured workers; because their man-years of STEM work may extend far more than six years and their effect may eventually be hidden by departure from STEM or transitioning to other visa classes while still working in STEM until retirement, there is a compounding effect of the non-bodyshop-sponsored. Thus the man-years of STEM jobs taken by 20,000 “intel”-sponsored H-1Bs each year may ultimately close off 600,000 man-years or more of STEM employment prospects to workers of US origin far more than 20,000 bodyshop-sponsored H-1Bs, who close off only 60,000 man-years of STEM employment..


    • CIS has (or at least publishes) very little info. Feds don’t track: are they actually getting paid (W2 verification), if they leave when their visas expire (supposedly half of illegal foreign presence is visa “overstay”), etc.

      The “reports” are distilled of most of the information you seek. You’d have to download the databases of LCA applications and clean it out to only “certified” LCAs, which is as close as you’ll get to the data you seek.
      2008 and after are found here: https://www.foreignlaborcert.doleta.gov/performancedata.cfm in the “Disclosure Data” tab.
      2007 and prior are found here: http://www.flcdatacenter.com/CaseH1B.aspx

      They can be pulled into Access or (wicked slow) Excel. Complaints when I publish info from these databases: LCA certified doesn’t necessarily equate to visa usage executed. But then, nor does it reflect contracting employer using visas to place “visa overstay” illegal staff.


      • Yes, I’m keenly aware of what the government publishes now, which provides little basis for determining whether there is a true need to import more people on work visas in order to meet a true need. I’m saying that if the government is going to drive Americans out of work under the pretext that there’s a STEM shortage, they must collect and publish official data that can be used to make data-driven decisions on the need. Otherwise the data could not be used in the way I propose — to assess the need for more work visas in the coming year as a function of U-6 unemployment and man-years of work awarded in a given area of employment. Economists and statisticians generally use proxy variables that are highly correlated with the variable they would really like. which is generally unavailable. As you say, LCA certification does not imply use of the visa, but it’s very well correlated with it.


        • Numerous researchers have shown that the government data confirm there is no STEM labor shortage. The industry (falsely) counters that they need people will very specialized skills, not just any old STEM major.


        • Last I asked an NH state employment “expert” how she came up with unfilled jobs number, she said the job ads. I asked if she knew there’s a federal requirement to advertise, in 3 places, positions for which a company has submitted an application for an employment based green card. No answer, she just turned red in the face.
          Where someone is getting their data is highly relevant.
          Same thing with resumes. If someone is ONLY receiving H1B resumes, then the problem is their recruiter, not the native workforce, and many do not know that.


  7. On a pessimistic note, Trump supports staple a green card on an advanced degree, so that is a done deal. It should be noteworthy that there are quite a few software job ads asking for a graduate degree or better, thus favoring non-citizens since they are coming here after a cheap undergrad education at home to get one or two year graduate degrees here. That is they comprise a large number of STEM graduate degrees. Staple a green card is poor policy for a number of reasons such as it does not target any jobs for which there is a genuine shortage of citizen labor, and it puts citizen undergrads at a disadvantage since they have to pay far higher tuition than a majority of their non citizen counterparts.

    To those of us in the movement, please repeat “simply shuffles the deck chairs on the Titanic.” in as many media outlets as you can. I hadn’t read that from Hira so thank you Norm for quoting the analogy.


    • I’ve repeatedly stated since 2015 that Trump supports IGIB. And why wouldn’t he? Again I hold the immigration reform groups accountable here. They were talking to Trump’s people and either passively or actively endorsed IGIB.

      Last year one of the groups’ staffers connected me with a Trump administration official. I said I would be happy to talk to him, but if the conversation would be predicated on IGIB, we both would be wasting our time. I never heard back.

      Sorry to say so, but I have been warning for years that it would come to this, and sure enough, it is.


    • My doctor says this is killing medical graduates. They can’t afford the $32K a year an intern gets, to pay their education debt, which is doable for an inbound foreign medical graduate.


      • True. I recently read an article about a guy in India who killed his wife because she failed to get into medical school. She was 20 years old.


  8. “What happens is, you get a lot of H-1B resumes.”
    There’s a very good reason for that. Silicon Valley is hiring H1Bs for HR.

    I’ve not run any stats on how many. Topic first came up when a friend hiring complained her HR was only handing over H1B resumes. When we dug into it, we discovered that their HR lied when saying they posted the job at local universities. I suspect her HR is using “friends and family” plan, for their jobs postings.


    • What job postings? These acannot be located even when a posting is required by the salary level. I have been unable to locate the ads for the H-1B and Green Card workers that a senior faculty member at a local university hired into his own for profit company. Funny, both were from his native country as is the adjunct he hired to teach at the university.


      • Long ago an H1B coworker said Americans are “naive”. Yes, Cathy, US is entirely unprepared for the gaming of US immigration policies and workplace shenanigans.


        • The faculty member is an administrator. The previous person in the job would never have allowed this to happen.

          The university relies too much on international students to rock the boat.

          The university higher level administrators discriminate against disabled American citizens.


  9. Staple proposal is Green Card in exchange for University money spent. No basis for doing so, but for the presumption that all college-level immigration is good/necessary. Just what’s needed by Wall Street to wage suppress all college-level positions.


  10. It is true that jobs are not posted at local universities. If the jobs are posted at universities, would we( Industry) get the freshers or experienced workforce? Obviously the inexperienced. Then how are we going to fill-up the jobs for Experienced(3+ years) category, which accounts for more than 80% jobs in software industry.. No option left but H1B….and H1Bs are not just picked at random and given the JOB Offer-letter directly.. They go through the Employer’s complete Interview process which in some cases runs to 4-5 rounds of interviews..They HAVE to prove their knowledge, they HAVE to prove their skills, they HAVE to demonstrate proof of their experience, They HAVE to prove that they are FIT for the job. Only then they will be getting an AMERICAN JOB. Why do you think that SILICON Valley prefers H1s ? H1B visas are not offered for clerks, nurses or warehouse order-fillers ….There is a GENUINE dearth of experienced workforce…


    • By law, the H-1B visa is restricted to jobs that require a bachelor’s degree or more. An exception can be made for relevant experience, but the law does NOT allow the visa to be given to clerks or warehouse workers. The visa IS available to nurses, and yes, there are numerous H-1B nurses.

      In terms of whether the H-1Bs are qualified, I have never said they are unqualified. You are missing the point, which is this: The way that HR works is to state required experience level in the position req. The vast majority are for new or recent graduates. That freezes out the Americans over the age of 35.


      • 80% of H1Bs are paid $60K or less, not at all indicative of valuable experience.
        Over 1700 H1Bs used to staff HR, including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Ernst & Young, etc.
        THAT would be one of the prime reason they can’t “see” qualified resumes of citizens.


      • Norm, you need to download the LCA databases. Includes authorization for soccer coaches, au pairs, ranch hands, retail clerk, etc., starting at $7.25 an hour. “By law”, isn’t, just as “65K cap” isn’t.


        • There is a excel/pdf list of employers published by USCIS. The link is at the end of this post. And the truest fact about h1b is that real issue is AGE and not WAGE (and norm has been hammering this for long time). In another forum on h1b, I was amazed as to how some other Americans are also pro-heavy-immigration, when one of the posters stated (since h1b are mostly tech employees) we should not import only tech /engineers from India but also the likes of chefs and other low-end workers. It does seem that some in congress and even many Americans think only way fight the burgeoning chinese economy is to increase our own population base somehow (as you stated on one of the posts).

          Click to access h-1b-2016-employers.pdf

          Change pdf to csv in above link and you could run some reports and search data. Its true that h1bs are now being handed to pizza chefs as well!


          • “the truest fact about h1b is that real issue is AGE and not WAGE”
            If that were true, US grads would not go begging for work, and they do. 50% of US STEM new grads can’t find work in STEM. They’d be receiving low ball offers, if this was about age.

            “It does seem that some in congress and even many Americans think only way fight the burgeoning chinese economy is to increase our own population base somehow”
            Western/westernized populations are shrinking. The tighter the economic noose, the more they decline. And rather than fix THAT problem, its exacerbated with foreign worker influx, because Wall St feels entitled to easy money (Moynahan Bank of America CEO/Charlie Rose/Sept 21 2017). And it is known, causing unemployment (Mike Bloomberg/PBS NewsHour/Sept 20 2017).

            And it’s not about immigration, else they’d be offered green cards on the way in the door, not after decades of indentured servitude.


          • Most STEM fields simply don’t have jobs available. But H-1Bs don’t go into most STEM fields. They go into the computer fields, and the job market for new U.S. grads there is good.


    • Malarky!

      If this is the case why is one of my local company hiring a BS grad in the spring of 2017 who is just now being listed as grad student at the local university. Of course, this company (with a total of the two owners and one employee) is also showing that it is hiring employees to work remotely from Turkey. I wonder if they will be on the H-1B list for the coming year.


      • It sounds to me as if the company you mention is preparing to import these remote workers under the L-visa program after a year, as they can thereby avoid the H-1B cap.


        • The company does not appear to have a presence in Turkey. Of course, they have an affiliated company that does not even have a business license with the state and the main company does not show that they are complying with workers comp insurance laws.

          Consequently, I do not trust anything that this company or its owners do.


    • Nice try, Sadiq, but you and I both know that most H-1Bs are given to new grads (“freshers”) and not to experienced workers. There are plenty of highly capable, experienced Americans in the STEM field who are terminated because the H-1B, L-1, E-3 etc. visas glut the STEM labor market with cheaper labor, making it profitable to replace older, experienced American STEM workers with foreign workers while dispossessing American workers. Older experienced American STEM workers would be fully employed if your claim were correct, but that just isn’t so.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. You mention a report commissioned by Congress of employers which show a shortage of workers is false. Would you be able to provide a URL to this report?


    • I mentioned a report showing that the employers admitted paying the H-1Bs less. This was the 2003 NRC report. That report and others also have addressed the shortage issue, and none has found a shortage. See also research by Hal Salzman of Rutgers.


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