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.