By Joe Guzzardi
March 20, 2017
On Sunday, CBS’ 60 Minutes led with a special H-1B segment, “Are U.S. Workers Vulnerable to Workers with H-1B Visas?” the third that it’s produced in the last 20 years. The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa that enables major corporations like Disney, Toys“R”Us and Caterpillar, among dozens of others, to displace American workers.
In its 1997 feature, “North of the Border,” CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl appeared genuinely shocked that thousands of foreign-born workers could come to the U.S. to take jobs that would otherwise go to Americans. At the time, the H-1B was relatively new, and the American public went along with corporate talking points that the overseas workers had special skills, and that the U.S. had an IT engineer shortage. But Stahl saw through those arguments. She correctly noted “that there is a deliberate attempt here to take the Americans off the payroll and bring in someone who they’ll pay half or less than half.”
In 2003, when Silicon Valley launched a major lobbying effort to raise the H-1B visa cap from its then-limit of 195,000 annually, CBS did an abrupt about-face. A gushing Stahl told viewers that H-1B visa holders were among the world’s most educated, highly skilled, and that their presence benefited American consumers. By then, however, Silicon Valley had laid off hundreds of thousands of its employees, and Silicon Valley’s claims about the need for more overseas workers aroused skepticism. The lobbying effort failed, and the cap remained at 65,000.
Sunday’s special did a fair job of exposing the pain that displaced Americans suffer when younger, cheaper and less talented H-1Bs take their jobs: before they can collect their severance, the booted employees must train their replacements. CBS correspondent Bill Whitaker interviewed several fired University of California San Francisco IT workers. One said that he felt like he was forced to dig his own grave, then stab himself before falling into the hole. “It’s my livelihood,” he observed. Opting not to be embarrassed on national television, UC President Janet Napolitano declined a CBS interview request.
Bruce Morrison, former Connecticut U.S. House Rep. and Immigration Subcommittee chair who authored the H-1B bill, said when it passed as part of the Immigration Act of 1990 that the legislation would protect American jobs. But Sunday night Morrison told CBS that the H-1B has been “hijacked” and is the “main highway to bring people from abroad and displace Americans.” An Indian H-1B holder, also interviewed, admitted to Whitaker that he has to “steal” Americans’ knowledge before the humiliated, devastated ex-employees leave in tears.
As a candidate, President Trump targeted the H-1B visa, and called it “demeaning” to American workers. Back in March 2016, Trump promised his total commitment to “end forever” H-1B abuse. Recently, the administration announced that it would halt the expedited processing of H-1B visas that shortens the wait time for approval, a promising start.
Statistics confirm that no shortage of U.S. IT workers exits. In fact, Silicon Valley layoffs are rampant. Department of Labor data shows that total employment at U.S.-based computer and electronic firms sank to 1.03 million in August 2016 from 1.87 million in 2001. Employment at semiconductor makers fell by half to 359,000 in the same period.
The barometer for H-1B reform should be whether it leads to greater opportunities for Americans. The most effective way to reach that goal is to eliminate the visa.
Joe Guzzardi is a Senior Writing Fellow with Californians for Population Stabilization. Contact him at [email protected] and on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.