Last week, the House Immigration Subcommittee held a hearing on H-1B “high skilled” visas to discuss the supposed “problem” that 26 percent of all visa applications were rejected, up from 11 percent five years ago.
Ranking Democrat Zoe Lofgren suggested that these denials are due to arbitrariness and stupidity. She used one anecdotal example of “a recent case in which the USCIS denied an employment-based petition because the adjudicator determined that the company only had USD 15,000 in annual revenues and, therefore, couldn’t possibly pay the worker. It turned out, however, that the adjudicator had failed to note that the figures were listed in thousands. It was actually USD 15 million in revenue.”
You can never underestimate the ineptitude of the federal bureaucracy, and so I have little doubt that cases like this do exist. However, mistakes such as these notwithstanding, H-1B visas need to be greatly reduced because they take jobs away from American citizens.
This debate has gotten more play in the Indian press than in America, with headlines like “Obama warned over H1B visa denials” on ExpressIndia.com. Yet, despite these complaints by Democratic lawmakers and cheap-labor lobbyists, Obama has been completely blind to the plight of American engineers, computer programmers and other Americans whose jobs are being displaced by H-1B visas.
During an online town-hall meeting hosted by Google last month, Obama took a question from Jennifer Wedel, wife of an unemployed engineer in Texas. Noting that Obama had just called for companies to ask what they could do to bring jobs to Americans, she asked Obama, “Why does the government continue to issue and extend H1-B visas when there are tons of Americans, just like my husband, with no job?”
While qualifying that there were not enough civil-engineering jobs because Congress won’t pass his big spending measures, Obama insisted there was a shortage of other types of engineers. He said, “The H-1B should be reserved only for those companies who say they cannot find somebody in that particular field.”
When Mrs. Wedel told him that her husband was a semi-conductor engineer, Obama said, “It is interesting to me” that someone in such a field could not find a job because “the word that we’re getting is that somebody in that type of high-tech field, that kind of engineer, should be able to find something right away.” He then patronizingly asked her to send her husband’s resume to the White House.
Personally, I find it “interesting” that the president is so ignorant about the plight of American engineers. As Steve Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies notes, according to the government’s own numbers there are 101,000 American engineers who are looking for engineering jobs, 244,000 who have left the labor market and 1,470,000 who left the engineering field. That’s 1.8 million Americans with engineering degrees who do not have engineering jobs.
Just two days before Obama mentioned this speech, the Bay Area edition of the New York Times noted that “Cisco Systems, a maker of computer networking equipment … laid off 1,331 workers last year,” and “The semiconductor sector … has lost 4,600 jobs since 2008.”
The reason why big business is clamoring for more H-1B visas is not that there is a shortage of skilled workers, but because they would prefer to pay foreigners less than Americans. There have been several documented cases where American workers were forced to train H-1B guest workers to replace them.
The immigration attorneys who push through these visas make absolutely no allusions. While Rep. Lofgren may be able to point to isolated cases where bureaucratic bungling caused wrongful visa denial, immigrant lawyers make it their policy to get visas approved that should not make it.
In a presentation for fellow immigration attorneys, Lawrence Leibovitz explained his racket “Our goal is clearly not to find a qualified U.S. worker … our objective is to get this person a green card.” He advised his fellow immigration lawyers, “Clearly we are not going to find a place where the applicants are most numerous, we’re going to find a place where – again we’re complying with the law – and hoping and likely not to find qualified worker applicants. If someone looks like they are very qualified, if necessary schedule an interview; go through the whole process to find a legal basis to disqualify them.”
Even Bill Clinton’s secretary of labor, Robert Reich, testified to Congress in 1995 that under the program, a “U.S. employer can now lay off U.S. workers and replace them with H-1B workers” and that the “H-1B program does almost nothing to encourage U.S. employers to develop domestic workers to perform the jobs for which they are seeking non-immigrants, or to limit their dependency on a non-immigrant workforce.”
Nothing was done to address these concerns, and the problem has gotten worse.
Even during the height of the tech boom, virtually all employment in the high-tech sector went to immigrants. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, between 1999 and 2005 332,660 new computer jobs were created by the economy, while the government issued 330,524 H1B visas for computer workers. In others words, 99 percent of all job growth in the computer sector went directly to foreign workers.
That was poor policy during times of economic growth, but its sheer insanity in a recession. For all his talk about standing up for middle-class Americans against the 1 percent, when it comes to immigration, Barack Obama is perfectly happy to do the bidding of big business while dismissing the concerns of unemployed Americans.
Tom Tancredo represented Colorado’s 6th Congressional District from 1999-2009 in the U.S. House of Representatives and finished second to John Hickenlooper in the 2010 Colorado gubernatorial race.