Musings on Immigration

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The H-1B and L-1 Visas – the Attacks Continue!


It seems unrelenting these days. Attacks by anti-immigrationists on the two of the most useful non-immigrant visa categories, the H-1B and L-1 visas. The most recent attacks are based either on junk science or no science at all. Recently we received at the AILA National Office a letter from Professor Ray Marshall. AILA had issued a statement critical of the AFL endorsed Ray Marshall “plan” regarding immigration reform. This “plan” was highly supportive of the destructive Grassley-Durbin Anti-H-1B legislation. We were critical of this “plan” (and the Grassley-Durbin legislative proposal) because both the plan and the legislation are without merit and based on a lack of understanding of how our current employment based non-immigrant and immigration system currently works, what motivates employers to use the H-1B and L-1programs, and the tremendous historic and future benefits of these program.

A key part of Mr. Marshall’s letter reads as follows:

“Although we have grossly inadequate data about the H-1B and L-1 Visa programs, the data we do have clearly support the conclusion that these programs are used to displace U.S. workers and suppress their wages. Moreover, little or nothing is done to to ensure that these visas are used to import workers to fill real labor shortages–which, unlike the current system, would indeed strengthen the competitiveness of the American economy and promote broadly shared prosperity. Indeed, we have no reliable information about how many workers there are (estimates vary between 600,000 and 800,000, where and under what conditions they are employed, or how their numbers relate to total employment in the occupations where they are employed. These programs also do not have adequate safeguards to protect domestic or the foreign indentured workers from abuses. The recommendations inImmigration for Share Prosperity: A Framework for Comprehensive Reform are designed to address these defects. In addition to the provisions of the Durbin-Grassley bill, we need realistic, objective prevailing wage standards that will prevent these programs from being used to suppress the wages of American workers. Supporters often argue that the H-1B program is needed to attract the “best and the brightest” foreign workers, but the evidence shows that most of the foreign workers are hired for entry-level positions for which there do not appear to be shortages of qualified American workers. The H-1B and L-1 programs clearly need much better data and transparency to enable more effective evaluations of their impacts.It also is hard to see why a regular job, which most of those held by H-1Bs appear to be, should be held by “temporary” visa holders indentured for 3, 6, or even 10 years. If there are validated shortages of workers for regular jobs that cannot be filled at market wages with qualified U.S. residents, it would be better to fill them with immigrants with full legal rights, including the right to earn citizenship.” (emphasis added).

The stunning breath of ignorance of how the H-1B and L-1 programs operate and are used by U.S. employers is only matched by Professor Marshall ’s own acknowledgement that he has no evidence to support his non-peer reviewed conclusions. A formal response to Professor Marshall has been sent, but it is important that we all realize that those who understand and support these vital U.S. non-immigrant visa programs voice must not only voice our support, but provide the evidence to back it up.

Our exceptional Business Immigration Committee worked on a substantive response to Professor Marshall’s letter, with the lead taken by our Past President Ted Ruthizer. A key part of our response reads:

For starters, the H-1B status and its predecessor H-1 status have been a valuable part of our immigration system for almost 60 years, and the L-1 status for almost 40. And you might be surprised to learn that most economists who have studied these provisions disagree with you that H-1B professionals are hurting the American economy and the American worker. Rather, the vast majority of economists and business leaders who have looked at this issue, including Alan Greenspan, Jagdish Bhagwati, Nobel prize winning economist Gary Becker, Jack Welch, Michael Bloomberg, and Bill Gates are convinced that H-1B professionals (they’re not “guest workers” and they’re hardly “indentured” as you refer to them) have increased employment opportunities for all Americans, and their creativity and knowledge have furthered our national interest.

Here are additional points not mentioned in you letter that are worth noting. H-1Bs are designed for professionals, not for low level unskilled workers. Professor Richard Florida recently reported, “For management and business occupations – including hard-fit financial jobs – overall the unemployment rate is 4.0 percent; and for professional and technical occupations, it remains less than four percent (3.6 percent). . . .

Of grave concern is that three times in your letter you say you really do not have data to back up your conclusions. More importantly, the studies you cite to have not been peer reviewed and have not been subject to critical analysis. Surely you are aware as an academic that without reliable data, it’s rash and unfounded for you to condemn the entire H-1B program, particularly when the benefits of the H-1B status are so strong. These benefits are not just intangibly based on opinion. Peer-reviewed studies, such as those conducted by Vivek Wadhwa, Executive in Residence, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University, support the conclusion that the H-1B visa programs are good for America.

A couple of other important points you failed to note: H-1B professionals aren’t just computer scientists. They are also physicists, mathematicians, financial analysts, lawyers, economists, teachers, physicians serving in health professional shortage areas, and, like you, professors at virtually all American colleges and universities. Most of these H-1Bs aren’t recent arrivals. They are products of our finest universities, including your University of Texas.

The good news is that there are numerous studies coming out virtually every day with positive, enforcing data on the importance of the H-1b program. These studies will continue to come because business and academia understand the importance of these visa categories, and the need to vocally oppose these anti-immigrationists.

There is much more to our response to Professor Marshall, which you can read on AILA Infonet. But, this much you need to know. The gloves are off. The attacks on important and vital parts of our immigration system are underway. The anti-immigrationists know they cannot stop positive, effective immigration reform from happening, but they still think they can structure the updated immigration system in a way that still achieves their vision of restrictive immigration and a limited ability of American employers to hire the workers they want and need to thrive in an recovering economy.

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