For some time, activist groups such as Immigration Voice (IV) have lobbied Congress to change the law on green cards. Specifically, the statute limits nationals (by birth) of each country in the world to 20,000 green cards per year. Since the dominant nationality among H-1Bs is Indian (with Chinese a distant second), the same is true for applications for employer-sponsored green cards. This has created longer and longer backlogs, with waits exceeding 10 years or, according to some estimates, forever.
(Note by the way that the employers in question are the “Intels,” i.e. mainstream firms, large and small, who hire foreign students at U.S. campuses and eventually sponsoring them for green cards. The “Infosyses,” i.e. outsourcing firms, only rarely sponsor their foreign workers for green cards.)
IV has been lobbying Congress for years for a remedy, and they were excited to see it finally materialize as H.R. 392, which (not surprisingly) now seems stalled.
I’ve been neutral on the bill, preferring to point out that if the employer-sponsored green card programs were limited to their putative goals — remedying labor shortages and bringing in “the best and the brightest” — there would be no backlog. Back in the 80s, say, a typical wait would be a year or two, and with a decent reform to H-1B and the EB-series green cards, we could easily achieve this.
Although my stance on the bill has been neutral, I have expressed irritation with some foreign workers who refuse to acknowledge that the H-1B and green card programs do have many American (US citizens and permanent residents) victims, for whom the bill’s title, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2017, sounds rather Orwellian.
With this in mind, I was rather startled to see this article from the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group concerned with the influence of monied groups in politics. The opening paragraphs sound more like an IV plant than a piece on money on the Hill. The material on lobbying does not appear until the eighth ‘graph, but once it begins, it is interesting and informative.
What is most interesting to me, though, is the article’s excellent coverage of an aspect that I have often highlighted over the years (emphasis added):
According to [IV co-founder Aman] Kapoor, the Indian backlog problem is self-sustaining. People with H-1B status can’t switch jobs for fear of losing their place in line, so some employers seek out Indian candidates to take advantage of their H-1B status and their hopes of receiving a green card. Companies can hire them at entry-level salaries and keep them for a cheap and consistent price, even as they accrue on-the-job experience that might make them more valuable employees. Because their green card applications are attached to their job title, Indian workers can be stuck in the same position for years or decades, unable to accept a pay raise or promotion without starting the whole process over.
Excellent, succinct analysis, but I would replace “some employers” by “many employers, including the big household name firms.” As I wrote for instance in my HuffPo op-ed,
This immobility is of huge value to many employers, as it means that a foreign worker can’t leave them in the lurch in the midst of an urgent project. In a 2012 meeting between Google and several researchers, including myself, the firm explained the advantage of hiring foreign workers: the company can’t prevent the departure of Americans, but the foreign workers are stuck. David Swaim, an immigration lawyer who designed Texas Instruments’ immigration policy and is now in private practice, overtly urges employers to hire foreign students instead of Americans.
This candid statement by Google (which they volunteered, not in response to a question) should have been a bombshell, appearing in a prominent outlet. Reporters should have been beating a path to my door, asking me for details. No one ever has, including the ones who contacted me about H-1B because they had seen the HuffPo piece. Go figure.
Ironically, the only one who has ever responded on this was Rep. Ro Khanna, during the debate between him and me sponsored by the Voice of America. He DID see that it was a bombshell, and as a staunch advocate for the tech industry he was quite angry at my stating it. Here is an excerpt from my report on the debate:
Khanna reacted quite sharply to this, his voice rising. ‘This is a very serious charge! You have no proof! Who at Google said this? What are their names?’ I replied that I had stated this publicly before without objection from Google,and then said, ‘I’ll give you the name of the HR person, who by the way is now at Facebook. You should call Google.’ But of course he did not take me up on the offer.
Here we have a major, indeed iconic, Silicon Valley firm admitting to giving hiring preference to foreign workers. To me, the failure of the press to follow up on such a tantalizing lead is mystifying.
The article also notes that the bill’s shorter waits for Indians would result in longer waits for others, citing Iranians as an example. One can debate what is really “fair” here, but the salient issue is this: If H.R. 392 were ever to be enacted (possibly as part of another bill), Congress would feel it would be forced to enact a companion measure, the so-called Staple a Green Card policy. The latter would grant blanket permanent residency to all STEM graduate students at US schools (“stapling a green card to their diplomas”). Arguably H.R. 392, by simply “rearranging the deck chairs,” would have no adverse impact on U.S. workers, but Staple’s harm on the Americans would be severe, as I have written before.
There is no better example of “the devil is in the details” than H-1B/green card policy.