Immigration – both through legal and illegal means – is a hot topic of discussion. Though Donald Trump’s commitment to building a wall and recent 90-day ban have certainly brought immigration back into the spotlight, our leaders have yet to figure out a way to streamline the system – to make it easy for talented and skilled immigrants to find jobs and contribute to the economy. Instead, we’ve focused on discussions about how to keep people out, with hopes of preserving American jobs.
But the truth is, most Americans aren’t at risk of losing their jobs to illegal immigrants flooding the southern border. Though an influx of new arrivals through illegal channels does pose some significant issues, immigration is largely seen as a net benefit for the country. In fact, America’s economic future actually depends, almost entirely, upon immigration. And we also have to take into account the fact that net immigration numbers – from Mexico and Central America – have slowed considerably. Even nearing zero.
So, low-wage and low-skilled workers, particularly those getting riled up by Trump and his campaign promise to “build a wall,” probably don’t have much to worry about. It’s actually American workers higher up the economic ladder who are facing a real threat to their jobs from immigrants – via the H1B Visa Program.
The H1B program allows foreign workers to come work for U.S. companies, when U.S. companies can’t find enough home-grown talent to satisfy their needs. The Department of Labor says the program “applies to employers seeking to hire nonimmigrant aliens as workers in specialty occupations or as fashion models of distinguished merit and ability. A specialty occupation is one that requires the application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and the attainment of at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent.”
And here’s the really important part: “The intent of the H-1B provisions is to help employers who cannot otherwise obtain needed business skills and abilities from the U.S. workforce by authorizing the temporary employment of qualified individuals who are not otherwise authorized to work in the United States.”
As previously mentioned, H1Bs are meant to be used sparingly, for highly talented workers possessing skills employers can’t readily find. That sounds fair. Except that employers are widely and openly abusing the program, leading to thousands of lost jobs for Americans.
While millions of Americans have been focused on building a wall to stop a dwindling number of immigrants from Central America and Mexico from reaching California, Texas, and Arizona, the real threat to American jobs is in the boardrooms and corner offices of America’s biggest corporations. By using the H1B program, employers are able to replace many well-paying, highly skilled American workers with foreign substitutes – at a fraction of the cost.
But, how do employers get away with it? After all, the rules clearly say that the H1B program has certain requirements, mostly that foreign workers need a certain skill set, and that American employers can’t find those skill sets in American applicants. If you do a bit of research, it seems there are a number of methods to game the system. One way is to list certain job openings with impossible qualifications; for example, five years’ of experience with a certain program that has only existed for three. When employers can’t find someone who fits that cleverly-designed description? They can dip into the foreign talent pool, and find a worker who will work for a significantly smaller wage than an American worker.
That’s what it’s all really about, from an employer’s perspective: saving money. Businesses will do anything and everything to increase profits, and many have found the H1B program to be another legal loophole to help them do it.
We’re not talking about sketchy, no-name companies either. One recent example is Disney taking the scythe to its American IT workforce, and replacing them with H1B visa holders. The former Disney employees have filed a class-action lawsuit claiming that Disney had engaged in a “conspiracy to displace U.S. workers,” and that the company was actually engaging in racketeering by violating RICO laws, according to Ars Technica.
Employers like Disney seem to be using the H1B program to systematically replace American workers with foreign and outsourced contractors. The American workers, in this case, clearly had the skill set that Disney needed; they even trained their replacements. So it seems like it would be tough to prove that the H1B workers who replaced the Americans had a specialized skill set that Disney couldn’t find in American workers – seeing as they already had them in their ranks.
And this is just one story of many. Many other large American companies are doing the same thing.
This is troubling, to say the least, but it doesn’t mean we should vilify the H1B workers. These are people, like anyone else, trying to improve their lot in life. And if you were in their position, you’d probably make the same choices. The truth is, H1B workers are adding to productivity, and helping the economy. The problem is that American employers are abusing the system, and allowing it to happen in a slimy way.
But it’s clear that there is a threat to American jobs from foreign workers. It’s just not happening in the way that most people think it is – namely, that illegal immigrants from Mexico or Central America are sneaking across the border, and taking jobs. And even for the cases in which that is happening, these people aren’t necessarily taking jobs, employers are giving them those jobs. Illegally. So, who’s really to blame in that case?
It’s really a part of globalization. First, we saw manufacturing jobs head overseas to take advantage of cheaper labor. Now, we’re seeing specialized skills become more common in other parts of the world. There will be an equilibrium point, it’ll just take some time to get there.
In the meantime, American workers will need to stay a step ahead. There are plenty of skills in high demand that will land you a job, as we wait for the courts to sort out the H1B program abuse happening all across the country. That is, unless the corporate lobby manages to win out.