There was an extraordinary exchange Monday evening on a Google+ “Hangout” between President Obama and a woman whose husband is an unemployed semiconductor engineer. She asked the President why H-1B visas are still being issued when there are many Americans like her husband –struggling to find permanent employment in the tech industry. President Obama’s answer perfectly illustrates why, to borrow one of his favorite terms, “our immigration system is broken.”
The President answers that “what industry tells me” is that there is a lack of skilled workers in the U.S., which is a little like saying, “the foxes tell me the henhouse is secure.” The reality is that the tech industry is bringing in tens of thousands of new long-term foreign guest workers every year (there are about 650,000 H-1B workers in the United States right now), who are displacing highly-skilled Americans. So instead of directing the government agencies responsible for administering the H-1B program to ensure that American workers are not adversely affected, the President is taking the word of the employers who are using H-1B workers to drive down wages and put Americans out of work. He finds the unemployed American engineer’s situation “interesting” and wants to find out what is happening.
But there is an even more telling statement made by President Obama that demonstrates a breathtaking ignorance of how the H-1B program operates. He believes it should only be used for companies who say they can not find qualified American workers. But employers are not required to do any such thing. The federal government allows employers to bring in H-1B guest workers even though there is an overabundance of skilled American workers available. Only “H-1B dependent” employers (more than 15% of their workforce) have to “attest” that they “attempted” to recruit a U.S. worker, and these attestations are virtually rubber stamped by the Department of Labor. Between 2000 and 2009, an astounding 94% of all H-1B applications were approved. When the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency (USCIS) examined a random sample of H-1B applications in 2008, it found that 21% contained violations, including 13% that were fraudulent. Obviously the federal government is not really concerned about whether or not the industry’s claims are true.
In 2007, then Senator Obama said this: “The intent is that H-1B visas only be issued if qualified American workers are unable to take the jobs in question….I fully agree that H-1B hires should be a last recourse as a matter of labor policy.” If that is his position then he now has the power to make sure that this becomes a matter of policy. The President says he wants to follow up on this issue. We will take him at his word and recommend he begins by reading FAIR’s report on the subject. He should also talk to Sens. Durbin and Grassley, who understand that the “H-1B visa program is plagued with fraud and abuse and is a vehicle for outsourcing American jobs.” They have drafted legislation that would require employers to actually demonstrate a need for foreign workers, and would close the loophole that allows employers to pay foreign workers below prevailing industry wage rates.