One of the main arguments touted by groups interested in seeing an increase in the cap on H-1B temporary worker visas is that those who wish to work here on these visas are some of the world's best recruits, and their addition to the work force would foster U.S. innovation and global competitiveness.
Opponents to the program argue that H-1B visas do none of the above, but are instead used by large, greedy tech companies to undercut the wages of U.S. workers, effectively pushing them out of jobs. Opponents cite fines levied against system abusers as evidence.
In an article published this month by the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank favoring fewer immigrants but a warmer welcome for those admitted, Norman Matloff, a professor at the University of California, Davis, who has been a longtime critic of the H-1B program, took a look at the median salaries of H-1B visa workers in the U.S. and found that although these workers weren't being underpaid, the median salary for a tech worker on an H-1B is simply the prevailing wage for their job and no more.
From there, Matloff drew the conclusion that if these workers were truly the best and brightest and would be able to foster U.S. innovation, they'd be able to command salaries higher than the prevailing wage.
"Most foreign tech workers, particularly those from Asia, are in fact of only average talent. Moreover, they are hired for low-level jobs of limited responsibility, not positions that generate innovation. This is true both overall and in the key tech occupations, and most importantly, in the firms most stridently demanding that Congress admit more foreign workers," Matloff writes.
Stuart Anderson, executive director for the National Foundation for American Policy, which is in favor of boosting the H-1B cap, countered to the Wall Street Journal Business Technology blog that the just-average salaries of most H-1B workers could be better accounted for by their age.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, in 2005, 41 percent of H-1B holders were younger than 30 years old, and 32 percent were under 35. In previous years, the proportion of H-1B workers under the age of 35 was more than three-quarters.