By Joe Guzzardi
September 20, 2017
While the headlines scream DACA, DACA, DACA – deferred action for childhood arrivals, as if all reading America doesn’t already know – another work authorization program that stumping candidate Trump criticized rolls on.
The H-1B visa made national headlines last year when major corporations fired Americans workers, and forced them to train their foreign-born visa replacements or lose their severance packages. The corporations that fired Americans with families, mortgages and auto loans, sending them packing into a weak employment market, included household names like Disney, McDonald’s and Caterpillar. Displaced Americans call their firing, and then the hiring of overseas workers to take their jobs, treason – an understandable sentiment.
The “hire American” half of President Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” executive order is tough to fulfill when the H-1B visa, advertised as temporary but valid for six years, gluts the labor pool with cheap overseas employees. Every year, 65,000 foreign workers come to the U.S. on H-1B visas. Another 20,000 already in the U.S. as students are issued H-1B visas.
In a relatively new wrinkle sanctioned under the radar, universities and nonprofits have been exempted from the congressionally approved 85,000 cap, so the total work authorization documents issued to foreign nationals may be hundreds of thousands each year.
President Trump’s executive order correctly identified the multiple flaws of the H-1B, and singled out the biggest abusers, Tata, Infosys and Cognizant. Trump: “So 80 percent [of H-1B visa workers] receive less than the median wage, and only 10 percent receive the median wage.” The order drew the obvious conclusion: Less skilled foreign workers are often brought in well below market rates to replace American workers.
The permanent cure to corporations’ excessive, unjust H-1B reliance is congressional action that would slow down H-1B issuance or put the visa in the deep freezer for a decade or so. Reams of nonpartisan research show that there’s no American tech worker shortage. To the contrary, tech companies are prolific job-cutters. Challenger Gray & Christmas, Inc., outplacement experts that compile data on workforce reductions, found that technology companies have cut more than 413,000 jobs since 2012, including more than 96,000 in 2016.
Even the adamantly pro-immigration, anti-Trump New York Times published a story that questioned the tech companies’ claim that its industry has 500,000 jobs it cannot fill. The Los Angeles Times has seen the light, too, and called shortage claims “phony.” Silicon Valley’s cry wolf allegations succeed with Congress, but have come under increasing scrutiny among impartial analysts.
So far, President Trump has done little to fulfill his campaign promise to rein in the H-1B. He may be hesitant to undertake what could be a losing showdown with an H-1B-loving Congress. Even if Congress cooperated with Trump, unraveling the H-1B regulatory maze would be an unholy mess.
The Departments of State, Justice, Homeland Security and Labor all have roles in overseeing the H-1B, and have written hundreds of pages of unfathomable regulations that govern the visa.
Sounds like it’s time for President Trump to get out his pen and phone, and put them to use the way his predecessor successfully did. For starters, a one-sentence executive order would be plenty: “Effective immediately, future H-1B visas expire one year from the issuance date.” The pen and phone technique would circumvent donor-dependent congressional Republicans that reply on tech titans’ money, and would help employers hire American.