By Joe Guzzardi
April 16, 2012
From Kansas City comes the interesting and, at first blush, inspiring story that local employment councils, community colleges and workforce partnerships will split a $5 million federal grant to prepare area workers for high level jobs often filled with foreign-born workers. Until the grant was awarded, Kansas City agencies lacked the resources to retrain unemployed American workers.
No one, or so it would seem, could oppose a plan that will use federal funds to put Americans back to work especially if the jobs will be well paid.
But upon closer inspection, the retraining program is just one more scam that, ironically, has its genesis in the ultimate employment scam—the H-1B visa.
The grant money comes out of a $183 million fee pool collected by the Department of Labor from employers who hire H-1B visa workers. The 1998 Congressional legislation that nearly doubled the numbers of H-1B visas available from 65,000 to 115,000 also created the employers’ fee as a method of justifying the increase. In other words, employers promised that in exchange for more overseas workers, they would pay a premium and apply the proceeds to train Americans. This is a common immigration ploy; employers pledge to do something beneficial down the line to get what they want immediately.
To learn how such trainings work, I spoke to a displaced California engineer who holds a Ph.D. in natural science and had over a decade of relevant work experience at the time of his dismissal. When he lived in Dallas, my engineer friend had been enrolled in a program similar to the one in Kansas City.
According to him, these so-called retraining programs typically allocate about $1,000 to $2,000 per student to prepare Americans for what ends up being low-paying service related positions that last only a short time. An in-depth, four year IT course at a major university costs approximately $50,000 to $200,000. After his retraining, the fired engineer despite his excellent resume, could only find a Microsoft customer support position that paid a meager $11.06 hourly. Delivering pizzas would have netted him more.
The H-1B user fee doesn’t prevent unscrupulous employers from hiring more foreign-born employees and paying them below scale. Industry lobbyists still make the same specious argument today that they did nearly 15 years ago—the nation has a lack of specialized skilled workers. In 1998, Dr. Norman Matloff, University of California at Davis computer science professor and once a Silicon Valley data base developer testified before Congress that user fees would not slow the demand for cheap foreign labor. The Department of Commerce later confirmed Professor Matloff’s prediction. Sun Microsystems, at that time a powerful firm at the vanguard of pushing Congress for more H-1Bs, publicly stated that it never considered the user fee as a roadblock to hiring foreign-born workers.
The Kansas City program and the 28 others that will soon begin nationwide are classic examples of elites getting what they want—cheap labor—but repackaging it so they appear heroic. Other big winners are the community colleges who get the expanded funding and immigration lawyers who make a bundle off the never ending stream of H-1B visa holders. The losers are, as always, American workers. If the United States were serious about American unemployment, it would cancel self-serving low level training classes and instead drastically curtail or end immigration—a more permanent solution to job opportunities.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. His columns have been nationally syndicated since 1986. Contact him at [email protected]