The NYT had an interesting one-two punch on the subject of H-1B visas this
weekend. Saturday saw a news article by Julia
Preston, reporting the chaos at the
IRS Bureau of Citizenship and
Swamped by petitions for work visas from highly educated or skilled foreigners,
immigration authorities have conducted a lottery for the first time to determine
which ones will be considered, federal officials announced yesterday.
Faced with 123,480 applications over the course of two days for a pool of just
65,000 visas, the BCIS probably had little choice. But the decision didn’t go
“The people we need to contribute to our innovation economy are being
subjected to a perverse form of ‘Wheel of Fortune,’ ” said
Robert Hoffman, vice president for government and public affairs at the Oracle
“Many members of the Class of 2007 effectively received deportation
orders and lost their post-graduation jobs last week,” said an April
9 editorial in The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper.
Then, on Sunday, Steve
Lohr chimed in with the opposite side of the story, in an "Economic
While Microsoft may be paying its H-1B visa holders well and recruiting people
with hard-to-find talents, other companies have a different agenda. The H-1B
visa program, Mr. Hira [Ronil Hira, of the Rochester Institute of Technology]
asserts, has become a vehicle for accelerating the pace of offshore outsourcing
of computing work, sending more jobs abroad. Holders of H-1B visas, he says,
do the on-site work of understanding a client’s needs and specifications
— and then most of the software coding is done back in India…
Over the years, the H-1B visa, which allows a person to work in the United
States for three years and can be renewed for an additional three, has been
used by many people as a steppingstone to becoming a permanent resident. Traditionally,
about half of all H-1B holders eventually get green cards, immigration experts
Yet the major outsourcing companies, while seeking thousands of H-1B visas,
are asking for relative handfuls of green cards, according to government figures.
Lohr is way off base here. For one thing, the green-card argument is just plain
weird: if immigrants on temporary work visas turn out to be genuinely temporary
immigrants, why is that a bad thing? They pay lots of money into Social Security,
and get no benefits in return – a free lunch for the US economy!
Baker has the more substantive point:
Both Democratic and Republican administrations have worked hard to put manufacturing
workers into direct competition with low-paid workers in the developing world.
They have also thought it important to put many people in low-paying service
sector jobs into direct comeptition with workers from the developing world
through immigration policy (e.g. custodians, dishwashers, nannies).
Are we treating our high tech workers unfairly if they face the same competition
as textile workers and custodians? Only if we think that people with more
education need more protection than people with less education.
For three years after 2001, the H1-B quota was raised by Congress to 195,000
– and even that was too low. That it’s now back to 65,000 is a national
embarrassment. Compared to most immigrants, holders of H1-Bs are highly educated,
pay lots of taxes, and benefit both the economy and their local communities.
The cost of educating them has been borne elsewhere, and now they want to give
the benefits to the US. As a nation of immigrants, it should be welcoming them
with open arms.