The New H-1B “Reform” Bill: Part II

As I wrote in Part I, the bill is built 100% on the very faulty premise that the “Intels” use the H-1B program responsibly, with the “Infosyses” being the main abusers. Let’s see how that translates to actual points in the bill.

Wage floor:

Slight reform of the definition of the wage floor for H-1Bs. Currently there are four wage levels, 1 though 4, technically defined in terms of experience and responsibility, but in actuality serving largely as proxies for age. The new floor would be at least Level 2 or the median wage, each calculated for the given occupation in the given geographical region.

Granted, this would be a bit of an improvement over the present system, and I myself formerly supported setting the floor at the median, because of the key role H-1B plays in age discrimination: By allowing employers to hire new foreign grads of US schools, the H-1B program swells the supply of young workers, so the firms avoid hiring older (age 35+) US citizens and permanent residents. Setting the wage floor at the overall median, without regard to age, would have ameliorated that back in the old days.

However, things have changed in recent years, notably in playing games with job titles. For example, HP concocted the bizarre job title Junior Software Engineer. Another example is that Wall Street hires people to do math modeling that firms pay dearly for on the open market, but for which they can get a bargain by hiring an H-1B under the job title Mathematician, which has a lower scale. Keep in mind, the new wage floor would mean Level 2 FOR THE GIVEN JOB TITLE and median FOR THE GIVEN JOB TITLE.

The new bill’s setting the wage floor at Level 2 or the median, whichever is higher, is very telling — it’s the level at which the Intels do most of their H-1B hiring. What a coincidence! Again, this entire bill is aimed at benefiting the Intels. No surprise, of course, given the Khanna connection and the general IGIB orientation of the authors.

Requirement to give hiring and retention priority to qualified Americans:

Sorry, there is none. The bill would require employers to post job openings with the DoL, but NOT require them to hire the qualified Americans who apply. The firms would have a full green light to hire H-1Bs, just as they do today.

Sec. 209(b)(4), ANNUAL H-1B EMPLOYER SURVEY, is tragicomic:

The Secretary of Labor shall— (A) conduct an annual survey of employ-19ers hiring foreign nationals under the H–1B visa program; and (B) issue an annual report that— (i) describes the methods employers [are] taking good faith steps to recruit United States workers for the occupational classification for which the nonimmigrants are sought, using procedures that meet industry-wide standards; (ii) describes the best practices for recruiting among employers; and ‘(iii) contains recommendations on which recruiting steps employers can take to maximize the likelihood of hiring American workers…

“Industry-wide standards”? “Best practices”? Their standards and best practices are to hire foreign workers instead of Americans! The phrasing above presumes that the employers are currently wringing their hands, saying, “Darn it! We’re trying so hard to find Americans to fill our jobs, but we just can’t find them! Hopefully DoL can come up with some firms that do this well, and let us know how they do it.”

Earlier bills banned hiring of H-1Bs by a company that had had recent layoffs, or was about to engage in one. That has now been softened to an anti-replacement/displacement provision, aimed at the Infosyses.

Visa awarding priority:

Rather than doling out the visas by lottery as is currently the case, the bill would grant the visas in a certain order.

Top priority would go to STEM foreign students earning advanced degrees at US schools. I know that some critics of H-1B who are non-techies naively think this is reasonable; it is NOT. Any American techie has seen lots of H-1Bs with a Master’s degree (PhDs are a small minority among computer-related H-1Bs) who are quite weak in technical skill. Same for the American MS holders, of course; the degree just doesn’t mean much. (Keep in mind all the greats in the field without even a Bachelor’s degree, e.g. Gates, Zuckerberg, Ellison etc.)

Oddly, those being hired at Level 4 only would get second priority. Assuming wages offered have at least some semblance to economic value, this is odd, as is the next priority category, foreign students NOT in STEM. Gotta make sure we don’t have a shortage of Greek Mythology majors, y’know.


The bill is very heavy on other provisions aimed at the Infosyses: Site inspections, worker complaints, verification of sufficient funds to pay the H-1Bs etc.


As I’ve said before, there is only one criterion by which to judge reform proposals regarding H-1B etc.: Would it result in more US citizens and green card holders being hired by the tech industry? This is key, because I know some of you will say, “OK, it’s not a great bill, but it would bring some improvement.” In my opinion, it would NOT meet my key criterion — would it result in substantially more Americans being hired? If this bill were enacted, rhe employers would still hire the new-grad foreign student with an MS in Business Information Science from San Jose State in lieu of the older American (I have an actual person in mind here) with a Master’s in Statistics from UC Berkeley, one of the top Stat departments in the world.

To use my favorite quote of Grassley, long ago: “No one should be fooled” by the industry PR people. Unfortunately, the industry itself has written Grassley’s new bill.

What then is my solution? As always, my view is that we should return H-1B to the stated purpose of the old H-1 — bringing in “the Best and the Brightest” workers from around the world. The H-1B visa itself should have a very small yearly cap, say 5,000, used only for genuine labor shortages, and the scope of the O-1 visa should be greatly expanded. For example, any foreign student earning a PhD from a top US university should qualify. There should be a corresponding fast-track green card program for such outstanding talents.

(Continued in Part III.)




9 thoughts on “The New H-1B “Reform” Bill: Part II

  1. Master’s degrees are quite useless in terms of educational value across all fields. Any smart and motivated enough undergrad can teach themselves the contents of a Master’s course through self-study or free online courses. The preference towards Master’s degrees in visa programs should be eliminated – it just serves to convert the F-1 visa for Master’s programs into an easy immigration route for individuals of average skill. I wouldn’t mind prioritizing PhDs from the top dozen or so US research universities for employment visas – most of them are actually very good, and they are quite small in number.


    • For years upon years, I’d see job ads that said requirements were a bachelors with 1 year’s experience, or a Masters. Which meant they were seen as duplicate workforce value.
      The point of moving qualifications to Masters with respect to H1 is to feed the universities a glut of foreign students to bloat their programs and provide them low wage teaching/research “assistant”s.
      The PhDs I’ve worked with in the past have said there is little opportunity for PhDs in the job market. Universities are now taking advantage of H1 for sake of expanding their research/research grants, with cheap $21 an hour labor. That research, is patented and sold for cheap to industry. We, the public, get the bill for the research, industry gets the cream of the crop innovations for cheap w/no strings attached. Google – an example of that – the search algorithm was university research, and handed off to industry. “Don’t we all benefit?” – see above, “no strings attached”.


      • ps – Masters is 1 year commitment coming with 3 years OPT work permit. No H1 visa? Sign up for another Masters, good for another 3 years OPT. Which is currently occurring, perpetual student status. OPT was for “training before returning home” – and one of the major flaws, among many others, is the lack of requirement to actually return home. Which makes the OPT program a complete farce.


  2. It is essential that the quality of the university be part of the determination. I know many object to accreditation of the institution in the degree area as a requirement, but it is the only objective criteria available.

    Bachelor’s degrees from foreign institutions should only be recognized if the institution is a member of the various international organizations – AACBS , Washington Accord, Sydney Accord, Seoul Accord, etc.

    Since many US programs are only accredited at the undergraduate level, it should be required that an advanced degree will only qualify if obtained from a university with the undergraduate program accredited by a limited number of national/international evaluating commissions .

    I actually disagree with the assumption that PhDs are all well qualified – at least in engineering. One of the main issues i have in my state is the statutory requirement that engineering educators be registered professional engineers. Relatively few faculty members comply. Many do not qualify for registration due to requirements. Many are not even “engineering interns” which simply requires passing the Fundamentals of Engineering test. This covers IT fields as well as the traditional disciplines. I am of the opinion that professional registrations should be required for appointment as associate professor or above. These individuals are often supervising students designing and building projects for the public;; to have students supervised by an unlicensed person is an unnecessary risk.


  3. I’ve spent only a brief amount of time reading the bill, but when I hit “cannot lay off a citizen within 180 days of hiring an H1”, it meant “knowledge transfer” to the H1 was going to be 6 months notice of layoff instead of 3 months. In other words, they’re still preserving the mechanics of cheaper visa indentured labor.


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