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Letter to the Editor RE The Truth Is Out There: Temporary Foreign Professionals Benefit America

Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 00073159 (posted Jul. 31, 2000)"

The Truth Is Out There: Temporary Foreign Professionals Benefit America

By: Gregg Rodgers


Mr. Rodgers, a partner in the Seattle law firm of Garvey, Schubert & Barer, chairs the Washington State Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association

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 professionals here.

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 shortage.

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 Immigration Control.

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 Against Immigration.”

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.