CEOs explain how H-1B visa hurts U.S. competitiveness

As the “Gang of Eight” senators reportedly continue to work diligently on drafting bipartisan legislation to comprehensively reform U.S. immigration laws, one of the key issues they will try to resolve is how to manage future flows of educated temporary and permanent immigrants who will work in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. A key topic of contention will be the H-1B visa, the principal guest worker program for educated workers in STEM fields. That’s why on March 14 a briefing was held on Capitol Hill to inform Senate staffers about the H-1B program’s impacts on the labor market and job opportunities for U.S. workers in STEM fields. The briefing offered facts and perspectives about the H-1B that are usually ignored or overlooked by the media; including from CEOs who use the program.

Yesterday Politico reported how the briefing would provide balance to the heavy lobbying by the tech industry in favor of the H-1B program. The industry is looking to triple or quadruple the number of guest worker visas available, using the proposed “I-Squared Act” as the model, and without any regard to the reality that unemployment for college-educated STEM workers is still double what it was before the recession. While (if enacted) the I-Squared Act would vastly expand the H-1B program, it does nothing to remedy the loopholes in the program that permit employers to hire a guest worker without first having to recruit qualified and available U.S. workers, and allow the majority of H-1B workers to be vastly underpaid relative to U.S. workers in the same occupation and local area.

Computerworld reported today on two other key messages that came out of the briefing: American students are being discouraged from pursuing STEM careers and many U.S. companies are at a competitive disadvantage thanks to guest worker programs. This absurd result occurs in part because nearly half of the available visas are granted to offshore outsourcing companies with a business model that transfers high tech American jobs overseas. Although globalization is a reality and here to stay – which means some jobs will inevitably relocate from country to country as economic and market conditions shift – the H-1B program is unnecessarily facilitating an exodus of STEM jobs that could just as easily remain in the United States.

The tech industry isn’t lobbying to remedy any of these alarming flaws in the H-1B program, because companies benefit directly from the status quo in the form of the artificially low salaries they are allowed to pay H-1B workers, as well as from an expanded labor pool that keeps wages from increasing for all STEM workers. Yesterday’s briefing offered a range of perspectives on the H-1B program to help explain this: it was moderated by Rochester Institute of Technology professor and engineer Ron Hira, and included the president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, an H-1B worker from the Philippines, and two tech company CEOs—Brian Keane of Ameritas Technologies and Neeraj Gupta of Systems in Motion—both of whom have used the H-1B program in the past to hire guest workers (and in the case of Gupta, to send jobs offshore).

Before the briefing took place, Politico wrote that Keane and Gupta would “present a contrast to the defense [of the H-1B program] echoed by most tech industry representatives at a recent House Judiciary subcommittee hearing.” This was correct, and Keane and Gupta’s opening statements are worth reading because they offer unique insight into how the H-1B program is abused and exploited by employers of STEM workers, and they offer compelling reasons why the program should undergo major reforms. Also, they provide smart recommendations on how to fix the H-1B program, and suggest it could be valuable to the American economy and contribute to innovation in STEM fields if it were operating as intended. Both statements are available for download below.

READ: Opening statement of Brian Keane, CEO, Ameritas Technologies

READ: Opening Statement of Neeraj Gupta, CEO, Systems in Motion