Lifting Caps on Foreign Worker Visas Bad Idea, Critics Say

Monisha Bansal | Senior Staff Writer | Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Lifting Caps on Foreign Worker Visas Bad Idea, Critics Say

( - With two new bills in Congress to provide emergency increases to the number of H-1B visas for skilled workers from foreign countries, immigration-reduction advocates said raising the caps is "irresponsible" and hurts American workers. But advocates of raising the caps said the workers are needed and will benefit the U.S. economy.

"American employers have an urgent need for highly skilled foreign workers to fill positions in specialty occupations," said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas). "The American economy thrives on high-tech companies that require high-tech workers to remain globally competitive."

Smith introduced the Strengthening United States Technology and Innovation Act, which would triple the current H-1B visa cap to 195,000 in 2008 and 2009, and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) introduced the Innovation Employment Act, which would double the current H-1B visa cap to 130,000 per fiscal year. (H-1B visas are issued to non-immigrants with special skills, largely in high-tech industries.)

"H-1B visas are necessary to ensure that these companies have the resources and workers required to succeed," Smith said in a statement. "When high-tech companies and firms go to American universities to recruit, they seek the best graduates regardless of their nationality.

"In many cases, the best students are foreigners," Smith added. "By denying them positions here in the U.S., we let many talented and highly educated workers take positions with our competitors overseas. That is not good for business and it is not good for the American economy."

But Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations for the grassroots immigration reduction group NumbersUSA, said, "Our biggest problem is that there are not sufficient protections for American workers. Until we fix those problems, it is irresponsible to raise the caps."

"We know that a large number of H-1B visas are in fact being used by body shops," she said. "Essentially, Indian companies are then shopping out these workers as cheap labor. That should not be allowed to happen."

Jenks told Cybercast News Service that H-1B visas should be very specific about occupations and "very narrowly tailored to high-tech fields."

"If we did that, I think we'd find that the cap is absolutely adequate," she said, adding, "especially at this particular time in our country where we're headed into a recession, it's a little hard to believe when Bill Gates comes to the Hill and talks about how he is facing a desperate shortage of workers."

"We have to make sure that Americans are not being displaced," she said and noted Americans' wages should not be suppressed because of the program.

"That means that employers have to try to recruit American workers," Jenks said. "They have to pay foreign workers ... the same amount, including benefits and the total package that they would pay American workers, or that they have offered American workers."

Dan Griswold, director of the center for trade policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, however, said there is "no evidence" of wage suppression.

"U.S. high-tech workers continue to earn very competitive, attractive salaries," he said. "It's just that U.S. companies literally can't find the workers they need."

Griswold told Cybercast News Service that the cap on visas is "silly."

"The current cap is ridiculously low and is impeding America's ability to compete in the global high-tech economy," he said.

"Raising the H-1B cap would allow American companies to hire the workers they need to meet the demands of a global marketplace. If U.S. workers can't hire the workers they need here at home, they will have greater incentives to move their production facilities abroad," Griswold added.

"We are already seeing that - Microsoft has located a facility in Vancouver, Canada because it's easier to hire the people they need," Griswold said. "Other companies will look more seriously at locating facilities in India and Ireland and elsewhere."

He added that there is "no evidence that issuing more H-1B visas has any effect on U.S. employment. In fact, the evidence is that H-1B workers create employment for Americans."

"For every one hired, U.S. companies tend to hire other Americans to work with the H-1B workers. So, hiring H-1B workers helps U.S. companies keep production in the United States," Griswold said.

"In the late 1990s, U.S. companies were making full use of H-1B visas and yet employment was growing," Griswold said. "When there isn't demand, companies don't seek H-1B visas."

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