The recent increase in the annual quota for H-1B visas has churned up familiar passions once again. Last month, Congress approved legislation increasing the limit on H-1B visas from 65,000 to 85,000, but that 20,000 increment must consist of foreign nationals who have graduated from U.S. universities with advanced degrees. The measure was, no doubt, intended to blunt criticism of the H-1B program as a floodgate for diluting the U.S. labor market with skilled, low-wage workers. We applaud this attempt at targeting the worlds best and brightest for admission to the United States. However, more must be done to improve the program for the sake of both American citizens and the visa holders.
In response to criticism, H-1B proponents point out that the United States is a nation of immigrants. But immigrants who came here previously came to stay. H-1B visa holders, unless they get a green card, must leave—and take with them the job skills that theyve acquired here. They are visitors, not immigrants.
H-1B status also resembles that of indentured servants of days gone by, in that H-1B visa holders cannot change companies once theyre here. H-1B holders ought to be allowed to look around for a better job. Tying them to a single company curtails the basic freedom of choice, invites employer abuse and unnaturally skews the labor market.
Even indentured servants came here to stay. The absence of lasting commitment on the part of employers can lead to exploitation. For example, a company does not have to protect the rights of H-1B workers in the case of layoffs; the workers simply return home when their work is done. With workers in the country for only, say, three years, their pay will increase only so much before they go away. Seen in this light, the H-1B population is a more or less constant pool of workers who can be exploited in ways U.S. citizens cant be. Therefore, more immigrants and fewer H-1Bs would be better for all concerned. And in the spirit of the recent 20,000 increase, we recommend that all foreign recipients of advanced degrees from U.S. institutions be given special consideration in the awarding of green cards.
U.S. students should get a better shot at filling the jobs that now go to H-1B recipients. We need to encourage our children to pursue careers in engineering and computer science. But the spate of offshoring and H-1B abuse has discouraged many from this course.
Building on the No Child Left Behind Act to further strengthen K-12 math and science education is of the utmost importance. And when American students graduate, they should not face a job market with many positions, for all practical purposes, open only to H-1B holders. The requirements for publicly posting job vacancies need to be more stringent, and employers who discriminate against U.S. citizens should face stiff penalties.
Many successful immigrants first entered the country as H-1B holders. We do not favor elimination of the program. But it can and must be improved.
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