Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 38me0081 (posted Jul. 31, 2000)"
The Truth Is Out There: Temporary Foreign
Professionals Benefit America
By: Gregg Rodgers
Rodgers, a partner in the Seattle law firm of Garvey, Schubert & Barer, chairs the Washington State Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers
Congress and the Administration now agree that employers
should have access to an increased number of temporary foreign professionals,
commonly called H-1B workers after the visa program that admits them.
However, the media is filled with divisive misinformation directed
against this program. Much of this
has been fueled by opponents of immigration who are waging an extensive and
expensive advertising campaign, including some run on these pages.
It is unforuntate that, as during a war, truth has been the first
casualty in the course of this advertising blitz.
The truth is that there is a shortage of skilled
professionals and that these professionals benefit America.
The Federal Reserve Board has continually reported over the past three
years that companies across the country and all economic sectors have difficulty
in finding and retaining qualified professionals.
The high-tech sector, hospitals, colleges, universities and school
districts are hit particularly hard by this shortage.
H-1B visas are part of the solution, but the H-1B “cap” is a cap on
America’s economic growth. Companies
report that they have cut back on expansion plans due to the shortage of
professionals. Other firms have
moved operations or jobs overseas because they could not find enough qualified
The focus of many of the vitriolic advertisements that have
appeared recently are bills before Congress that would amend the H-1B visa
program. H-1B visas currently are
available only to professionals in specialty occupations that, essentially,
require at least a bachelor’s degree. The
government defines such jobs so strictly that even Microsoft founder Bill Gates
could be ineligible. H-1B visas are
valid for up to three years and can be extended for another three.
Companies must pay H-1B professionals the same prevailing market wage and
guarantee the same working conditions and benefits as they provide to American
workers. H-1B visas cannot be used
to undercut American workers.
The entire process is cumbersome, expensive and
time-consuming. Some employers
estimate that it costs them between $10,000 and $15,000 above and beyond salary
and benefits to hire a temporary foreign professional under the H-1B program.
So why would an employer go through the H-1B process?
Because America’s highly regulated permanent immigration system is
unworkable and outdated, and because there are not enough American college
graduates with the technical skills that employers need in today’s economy.
The H-1B program has existed for more than 40 years, but
the problems with the so-called cap only date back to 1997.
From the time the program was enacted until 1990, there was no limit on
temporary foreign professionals. Starting
in the 1992 federal fiscal year, Congress decided to impose a cap; a decision
based purely on politics and bearing no resemblance to economic needs or
immigration policy. In 1998, the
65,000 annual cap was temporarily increased to 115,000 for 1999 and 2000. It is slated to decline to 107,500 for 2001, and reverts to
65,000 starting in 2002. Interestingly,
the cap has been hit these past few years despite the increase in numbers.
As the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas recently found, “the higher cap
has been insufficient to meet the demand by high-tech firms and other employers
such as universities and research institutions.”
Rather than focusing on the role that these temporary
foreign professionals play in fueling and sustaining our economic growth, much
of the news coverage has focused instead on the opposition’s allegations in
their misleading advertising campaign. What
has not been reported are numerous independent economic studies that dispute
virtually every single one of the opposition’s allegations.
For example, a U.S. Commerce Department study of the
high-tech sector released last month found that the average annual wage for
high-tech workers was $58,000 in 1998 (the last year for which figures are
available), or 85 percent higher than
the $32,000 for all private sector workers.
In addition, high-tech wages have grown by 5.8 percent a year since 1992;
all other private-sector workers saw their pay rise by 3.6 percent over the same
period. The report found that high
tech industries “paid wages that were higher than the total private industry
average wage in 1998, and almost all of them had higher than average wage growth
from 1992 to 1998.”
It is interesting to note that over that same period, the
report found that high-tech jobs went from 3.9 million in 1992 to 5.2 million,
and a total of 443,657 H-1B visas were issued.
In other words, temporary foreign professionals accounted for less than
.10% of all American workers, and less than .09% of all high-tech workers.
In addition to the Commerce Department study, high-tech executives have
told Congress that for every temporary foreign professional retained under the
H-1B program, an average of 5 other American jobs are created.
Those facts completely refute the opponents’ allegations.
The Commerce Department noted the incredible boom in
high-tech jobs. Other statistics
show the decline in Americans with technical college degrees.
For example, the Commerce Department reported that the number of
high-tech workers in occupations requiring at least an associate’s degree
increased from 2.2 million in 1992 to 3.2 million in 1998.
The U.S. Department of Education reports that, between 1987 and 1997, the
number of Americans graduating with technical degrees declined by 46%.
Putting those statistics together along with the employment statistics
above should put to rest the argument that there is no high-tech worker
Maybe that is why such diverse people as Federal Reserve
Chairman Alan Greenspan, Dallas Federal Reserve President Robert McTeer,
President Clinton, presumptive Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush,
Vice President Al Gore, and leaders of both the Democratic and Republican
congressional campaign committees endorse raising the H-1B cap.
Another fact being obscured in the current advertising
campaigns is who is behind the opposition.
The group sponsoring the recent advertisements in Washington is the
Coalition for the Future American Worker. A
recent article revealed that the “primary force behind the coalition” is
“a close-knit group of anti-immigrant activists.” Among the coalition’s members are such notorious
anti-immigrant groups as the Federation for American Immigration Reform (“The
Federation”), American Immigration Control (“AIC”), and Virginians for
Advertisements similar to those appearing in this state
also are being run in Michigan by the Federation.
The Michigan attacks have been denounced by, among others, the Michigan
Catholic Council and virtually every newspaper in the state as being nativist
and/or racist. One newspaper said
nothing the Federation says should be taken seriously, given its history of
supporting virulent causes. Leaders
of the Federation have publicly called for a 50-year moratorium on all
immigration. Interestingly, the
coalition’s spokesman is Roy Beck, an editor at Social Contract Publications,
a publishing house that was created by the Federation’s founder.
The Federation’s Web site lauds and promotes Beck’s book, “The Case
American Immigration Control publishes such racist and
anti-immigrant books as “The Camp of the Saints,” an apocalyptic novel about
France being overrun by immigrants, “Alien Nation,” “Importing
Revolution,” “The Path to National Suicide: An Essay on Immigration,” and
“Will America Drown? Immigration and the Third-World Population Explosion.”
Virginians for Immigration Control is another affiliate of the Federation.
The artillery smoke from the opponents’ advertisements is
obscuring the truth: that their
arguments amount to an unsubstantiated economic spin on their anti-immigrant
rhetoric; that the H-1B visa program is a key to America’s continued economic
expansion; that the H-1B program helps create American jobs; keeps us globally
competitive; and that measures raising the cap are endorsed by a bi-partisan
group of politicians and independent economists.