Think Tank Opposes Caps, Fees, Time Limit on H-1B Visas

The Competitive Enterprise Institute supports more freedom and less bureaucracy for temporary foreign workers who are not U.S. citizens. Opponents are not convinced.

H-1B visa policy as currently run by the United States Customs and Immigration Services is under attack from all sides.

An October advocacy paper by a conservative-leaning think tank calls for abolishing time restrictions, lowering or eliminating most of the fees, ridding company sponsors and removing most if not all of the bureaucracy involved in obtaining an H-1B visa. The Washington D.C.-based nonprofit Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI)-which has been known to deny the damages and effects of climate change-contends H-1B visa holders greatly benefit companies that employ them and help raise the wages of American workers, and the group shuns the idea that H-1B visa holders take jobs away from natural born talent.

"Hiring H-1B workers in information technology is highly correlated with increased employment of Americans, higher wages for American workers, and lower rates of unemployment," wrote Alex Nowrasteh, researcher at CEI in the paper. "Each H-1B position requested by a technology firm with fewer than 5,000 employees was associated with an increase of employment of 7.5 workers."

CEI also refers to the number of foreign-born workers associated with patents, the percentage of entrepreneurs who were foreign born (roughly 25 percent of technology companies) and the lack of hiring of H-1B visa holders during recessions.

"Highly skilled foreign workers' contributions to science and technology, high rates of education, low rates of crime, net contribution in tax revenue, and positive effect on the wages and productivity of American workers are all reasons to remove restrictions on highly skilled foreigners immigrating to the U.S.," wrote Nowrasteh. "Restricting the flow of highly skilled foreigners to the U.S. would hurt our economy. Entry barriers faced by foreign-born, highly skilled workers should be significantly eased."

Opponents of the H-1B visa program contend there are major labor abuses and wage-related problems with the program, including the displacement of American workers. Associate Professor at Rochester Institute of Technology Ron Hira further believes H-1B visas give unfair advantage to offshore outsourcing companies looking to use less expensive foreign workers to do the same job as qualified U.S. workers.

"The goals of the H-1B and L visa programs have been to bring in foreign workers who complement the U.S. workforce," wrote Hira in the October report "The H-1B and
L-1 Visa Programs: Out of Control" on behalf of liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute. "Instead, loopholes in both programs have made it too easy to bring in cheaper foreign workers, with ordinary skills, who directly substitute for, rather than complement, workers already in the country. They are clearly displacing and denying opportunities to U.S. workers."

CEI supports the elimination of the annual caps on the number of H-1B visa holders currently set at 85,000 per year. The organization also supports a major change in the program from these visas having temporary status: CEI wants H-1B visas holders to have an unlimited timeframe in the United States as long as they do not commit a felony. In a similar vein, CEI advocates for the complete elimination of company sponsorships.

"Restrictions on the entry of highly skilled immigrants hinder the growth of certain industries, reduce economic growth and slow technological development," Nowrasteh said. "The government cannot pick winners among highly skilled immigrants before they enter the country, so the number of allowed entries should be as great as possible, the requirements for entry as low as possible, and the burdens eliminated to the greatest extent possible."