Harrop: H-1B visas filling need for workers that isn’t there

What they are doing is helping the tech industry replace U.S. workers with cheaper foreign labor.

By Froma Harrop

Syndicated columnist

Americans don’t usually think of technical professionals as “guest workers,” yet at any one time, there are more than a half-million foreigners holding tech jobs in the U.S. They are here thanks to the H-1B visa program. H-1B, so the official spiel goes, addresses an alleged shortage of “highly skilled” Americans to fill jobs “requiring specialized knowledge.”

Growing evidence, however, points to companies’ using the program to replace perfectly qualified American workers with cheaper ones from elsewhere. A new report published by the Atlantic Council documents the abuses. The authors are Ron Hira, a political scientist at Howard University, and Bharath Gopalaswamy, director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center.

Among their criticisms:

• Virtually any white-collar job can be taken by an H-1B visa holder. About 70 percent of them are held not by what we consider tech workers but by teachers, accountants and salespeople, among others.

(Denver Public Schools employs teachers on H-1B visas. During a strike, the district actually threatened to report participating foreigners to immigration authorities. It later apologized.)

“By every objective measure,” Hira and Gopalaswamy write, “most H-1B workers have no more than ordinary skills, skills that are abundantly available in the U.S. labor market.”

U.S. colleges graduate 50 percent more students in engineering and in computer and information science than are hired in those fields every year, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute.

• Employers don’t have to show they have a labor shortage to apply. They don’t even have to try recruiting an American to fill the job.

Cutting labor costs is clearly the paramount “need.” In Silicon Valley, computer systems analysts make on average just over $116,000 a year. But companies can hire H-1B workers at a lower skill level, paying them only about $77,000 a year to do the same work, the report says.

And it’s not unheard-of for companies to ask American workers to train the H-1B workers taking their jobs. “60 Minutes” featured Robert Harrison, a senior telecom engineer at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center. Asked whether training his replacement felt like digging his own grave, Harrison responded:

“It feels worse than that. It feels like not only am I digging the grave but I’m getting ready to stab myself in the gut and fall into the grave.”

Why does this program continue without serious reform? Mainly because its big boosters include such marquee tech names as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Bloomberg and Eric Schmidt. Big Tech has showered think tanks with funding to brainwash Americans into believing that their country is starving for tech expertise.

Are there rare tech skills that justify companies’ looking abroad? There are, but that’s the purpose of the O-1 visa. About 10,000 are granted each year to individuals with “extraordinary ability or achievement.”

I asked Hira whether we need H-1B at all.

“I think there’s a place for the H-1B program,” he responded. “The O-1 is a cumbersome process that requires a lot of paperwork, both in preparation and review. But we need to raise the standards of the H-1B program so that the quality and skills of the workers are much higher.”

Also, we should substantially raise the wages paid to H-1B workers and make employers show that they tried to recruit Americans and offered them positions. Other guest-worker and green-card programs have that requirement.

Finally, put in force an effective means of enforcement. Right now, compliance is driven by whistleblowing. A random auditing system would far more efficiently find abuses.

Apparently, the argument that “tech jobs need filling” has, in many cases, oozed to “we want cheaper foreigners.” The H-1B program demands a major overhaul.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. Email her at fharrop@gmail.com.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Opinion

toon
Editorial cartoons for Saturday, May 25

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

FILE - A worker cleans a jet bridge at Paine Field in Everett, Wash., before passengers board an Alaska Airlines flight, March 4, 2019. Seattle-based Alaska Airlines owns Horizon Air. Three passengers sued Alaska Airlines on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023, saying they suffered emotional distress from an incident last month in which an off-duty pilot, was accused of trying to shut down the engines of a flight from Washington state to San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Editorial: FAA bill set to improve flight safety, experience

With FAA reauthorization, Congress proves it’s capable of legislating and not just throwing shade.

The author’s 19-year-old niece, Veronika, was among seven people killed by a gunman on May 23, 2014, in Isla Vista, Calif.
Comment: I lost my niece to gun violence 10 years ago this week

Since then, Washington state voters and lawmakers have taken bold steps to discourage gun violence.

Comment: Reroute of Harvey Field runway not worth flood risk

Without a projected need for expansion, the work risks flooding impacts to wildlife and residents.

Forum: How we employ hope in our work toward what we hope for

When reaching goals takes time, do we use hope to sustain us or to redefine what we sought in the first place?

Forum: As goes Boeing, so goes state funding for schools

Boeing tried to update the 737 on the cheap. The state has done the same in funding schools.

Tufekci: Scarlett Johanson’s voice isn’t only thing AI is after

Humanity’s collective creative output is being repurposed and monetized as AI companies see fit.

toon
Editorial cartoons for Friday, May 24

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

The vessel Tonga Chief, a 10-year-old Singaporean container ship, is moored at the Port of Everett Seaport in November, 2023, in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald file photo)
Editorial: Leave port tax issue for campaign, not the ballot

Including “taxing district” on ballot issue to expand the Port of Everett’s boundaries is prejudicial.

Schwab: MAGA GOP threatens supply chain of gobs to smack

Even if you ration your gobs, the week’s Republican outrages have created a nationwide shortage.

Alternative is needed to 8-hour shutdown of I-5

I was in the catastrophic I-5 backup on May 16 trying to… Continue reading

Herald, please bring back Today in History, professional sports scores

First off, thank you for continuing to publish The Herald. I have… Continue reading

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.