Business leaders trying to push through an increase to the H-1B visa cap
say the move would spur innovation, which, in turn, would create job
But U.S. IT professionals say nearly doubling the number of foreign
workers allowed to come here would flood the market with cheaper labor
and kick start another wave of high-tech unemployment.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has endorsed a move to up the number of
H-1B visas given out every year from 65,000 to 115,000. The bill also
says that in coming years if industry meets the cap limit, it
automatically can be expanded by an additional 20 percent.
The bill is expected to receive official Senate approval as it
comes as part of the giant immigration bill that Republicans and
Democrats have been wrestling over. Slipped in amid heated
negotiations over border security, immigration and citizenship, is the
call to up the number of foreign workers — largely scientists,
programmers and engineers — employed by American companies and
On Thursday, both sides reported being close to sealing a deal on the
immigration bill, but by Friday morning bickering had stalled efforts.
Now reports say it may not be signed until Congress returns from a two-
week spring recess. While the giant bill staggers ahead, the move to
expand the H-1B visa program just might hit a major snag in the House of
Last week, a House panel that oversees immigration issues did not respond
nearly as favorably to the move. And industry watchers say there the push
may stall, at least temporarily.
And that would be a loss to U.S. industry which needs to fill positions
that stand empty and could better innovate if they were allowed to bring
in highly skilled workers from other countries, according to Rebecca
Peters, counsel and manager of government relations for the Washington,
D.C.-based American Council on International Personnel, a non-profit
trade organization that lobbies for immigration laws and trade policies
on behalf of American employers.
”This will not hurt U.S. tech workers,” says Peters. ”These [visa
workers] are innovators. They’re coming in and making America more
competitive globally.” Peters also says demand for high-tech
professionals is high and H-1B workers would take jobs that otherwise
wouldn’t be filled at all.
John Miano, a consultant for Colosseum Builders Inc., a high-tech and
legal consultancy based in Summit, N.J., says that’s not the case.
authored a report for the Center for Immigration Studies comparing wages
paid to H-1B computer programmers to U.S. wages. He contends that U.S.
companies want to up the cap, not to bring in innovative and highly
trained workers, but to harvest cheap labor from foreign shores, putting
American workers at a disadvantage and forcing many into unemployment
”It’s creating direct competition for American workers,” says Miano,
who testified before a House subcommittee on this issue last week. ”The
cap is the only protection for U.S. workers that exists in the system.
The cap is the only thing that stands between workers and total chaos.”
Innovation or Competition?
Six to eight years ago, during the golden age of the IT industry,
there were more high-tech jobs than skilled American workers could
possibly fill. Using the H-1B visa system, companies were bringing in
hundreds of thousands of foreign workers, and were just beginning to ship
a few jobs offshore — a trickle of employment. But few squawked. After
all, there were more than enough jobs to go around.
But that all changed when the dot-com bubble burst, starting a major
slide in the tech industry near the turn of the century. Suddenly once
highly paid engineers, system administrators and project leaders found
themselves receiving pink slips instead of big budgets. IT departments
shrank while the number of resumes coming in for a single tech job grew.
At that point, an increasing number of people raised their voices against
the H-1B visa program, which, they said, were taking needed jobs away
from U.S. citizens struggling to find work. The cap was lowered but
despite that, there were
4 million H-1B and L-1 visas issued in the last six years alone,
according to John Bauman, president and co-founder of The Organization
for the Rights of American Workers (TORAW).
L-1s are non-immigrant visas available to foreign employees of
international companies that have offices in the U.S. The L-1 visas allow
them to relocate to U.S. offices.
Now that the economy has improved and high-tech hiring has picked up
again, employers say it’s time to allow companies to hire more foreign
workers through H-1B visas.
Peters says it’s not just a matter of filling vacant spots. She says it’s
a matter of helping the U.S. economy by using H-1B visa workers to create
new jobs. She explains that if Intel, for instance, hires innovative
foreign workers who create a new technology that takes off, new jobs will
be created to support that new product.
Bauman, himself a project manager who has worked only 10 months in the
last three and a half years, says it’s not that simple of an equation.
There are U.S. high-tech professionals who could use some of those jobs
”We’ve lost 25 percent of our IT jobs just here in Connecticut,” says
Bauman, who was in Washington, D.C. last week meeting with Congressional
representatives. ”Nationally, I think they’re reporting that 4 percent
of high-tech workers are unemployed… The shame of it is that many of
those who have lost their jobs just don’t show up on the stats anymore.
The government can say, ‘Look how great we’re doing’ but these people are
driving trucks, working as handymen. They’re not working in their field
anymore. They’re just trying to make ends meet and pay the bills. But
suddenly they don’t show up [on unemployment lists] anymore.”
Ralph Wyndrum, president of the IEEE-USA, a non-profit organization that
describes itself as promoting the advancement of technology, says many
out-of-work IT professionals have themselves to blame — not foreign
”To American computer engineers, we say, ‘You can compete’,” says
Wyndrum. ”The only ones who might be hurt are the computer engineers who
haven’t done anything about their careers for 10 or 20 years… They were
once well-trained but they’re not up-to-date. I’d dare say the
probability of the engineers who were laid off whose training is obsolete
is a one-to-one equivalence.
”We’ve gotten a little lazy,” he adds. ”The technology is changing so
rapidly you can’t expect that the degree you got in 1985 can match up
now. Just think how many things have been created… The free market is
But Wyndrum says the IEEE doesn’t support the H-1B visa program — cap or
”We support legislation that says let people in. Welcome people
as America always has,” he adds. ”Let them be citizens… We have
always succeeded as a country because we have attracted the brightest and
the best. It’s kept us at the top of the totem pole. To change that now
and to say, ‘China, India, we don’t want you’ isn’t going to work. We
can’t overcome natural forces. You have to learn to how thrive within