H1-B Visas and American Jobs
The H1-B visa program, created to import temporary foreign workers to fill high-tech jobs, is too often used to replace Americans with cheaper foreign workers under the guise that Americans are not qualified for these jobs. President Trump signed an executive order to initiate a review to assure that the H1-B visa program is used solely to fill existing gaps.
While this action is an important first step in protecting American jobs, we also need a long-term solution to the high-tech labor shortage in our country. Promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education at all levels can help develop more high-tech workers from the United States, to complement those who enter our workforce on H1-B’s.
The H1-B visa program grants temporary non-immigrant visas to foreign workers to fill skilled technology jobs. The original intent of the program was to fulfill a need created by an American workforce lacking the training and experience necessary for high-tech jobs, such as computer programming.
The visas are in high demand, as applications far exceed the 85,000 limit per year allowed under the program, and participants are chosen through a lottery which grants visas regardless of qualifications.
Originally intended to be used by American companies as a last resort, H1-B visas are frequently used as a substitute for hiring Americans. H1-B employees are not held to the same wage standards as domestic employees; for example, foreign computer programmers can be paid $65,000 per year while their American counterparts are paid upwards of $100,000. Companies such as Disney have exploited the system by hiring foreign labor to replace higher paid Americans. The recent report of Disney forcing American workers to train their foreign replacements prior to being laid off is troubling.
President Trump’s executive order seeks to correct several flaws of the H1-B program. The review should recommend abolishing the lottery to make sure that only demonstrably high skilled workers are granted visas. The wage discrepancy between foreign and American workers should also be eliminated to remove the disadvantage Americans face in the tech job market.
In addition to the H1-B review undertaken by the executive order, the United States can modify its education system to solve the shortage of American high-tech labor by placing a higher priority on the STEM fields. This will assure that more students are equipped with the necessary skills to pursue a career in tech fields. Likewise, more emphasis can be placed on career and technical education (CTE) to create skilled workers for many of the jobs which exist today and will grow in the globalized service economy of the future. The European model of “dual training,” whereby students interested in technical careers serve apprenticeships in companies related to their courses of study, would generate more skilled labor. This system benefits both the student, who is better trained than if he or she is strictly limited to classroom education, and the companies, which develop skilled workers who might end up as permanent employees and will be well known to the company when they show up for full-time work.
There is a successful example of this model working in our community of Southwest Florida. Dunbar High School in Fort Myers has invested in information technology (IT) and digital arts education for students, and allows students to partake in apprenticeships with companies in our community. Students participating in these tech programs have gone on to attend such schools as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard, and have a successful track record when applying for local IT jobs after graduation.
President Trump’s H1-B executive order is an important first step toward creating more American jobs, and changes to the H1-B program should be codified by Congress. Additionally, promoting technical, as well as high-tech, education will arm the American workforce with the skills needed to meet the challenges of the 21st century economy. These investments will assure that more businesses “hire American.”