Column: What ‘60 Minutes’ missed about the foreign worker program
Last month’s “60 Minutes” feature on the H-1B employment-based visa brought back into national awareness the outrage about displacing U.S. workers with foreign-born labor and, at the risk of losing their severance, forcing Americans to train their overseas replacements. Dissatisfaction with the H-1B has been boiling over since headline-grabbing firings at Disney, Caterpillar and McDonald’s, among others. Then-candidate, and now President Donald Trump tapped into the national anger about H-1Bs - 85,000 issued annually - and made reforming the visa a focal point of his promises to reform immigration to benefit Americans.
The CBS report neglected to discuss one of the biggest flaws that’s existed with H-1Bs since Day 1 - rampant fraud. In a review, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services found multiple incidents of forged documents, false degrees, shell companies at fake locations, understated wages, and misleading information about job duties performed.
When Congress created the H-1B as part of the Immigration Act of 1990, the visa’s purpose was to temporarily complement the American workforce. Instead, numerous H-1B loopholes are frequently exploited, mostly, but not exclusively, by Silicon Valley’s cheap labor addicts. But, in what looks like President Trump making good on his campaign promise to “end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor tool,” on April 3, USCIS announced that it will take new and tougher measures on behalf of American workers to detect fraud, and to allow qualified Americans to advise the agency when they’ve been unfairly denied employment opportunities or unfairly displaced by an H-1B visa holder.
USCIS’ intervention comes just as university economists have found more evidence of a large, untapped pool of employable domestic workers that negate the need for H-1B imports. Scholars cite Census Bureau data which shows that nearly half of two million college graduates with degrees in computers, mathematics or statistics don’t work in science, tech, engineering and math jobs, the STEM fields.
The same researchers also noted that, every year, tech employers lay off thousands of workers who could be retrained or rehired by other companies in the same industry. More than 413,000 IT jobs have been cut since 2012, including more than 96,000 in 2016. In 2014, after several major tech firms lobbied Capitol Hill claiming a dire shortage of American workers, Business Week asked Facebook to identify one specific example. Facebook emailed a response that didn’t answer the magazine’s question, but deviously reiterated that “a skills gap threatens the competitiveness of the tech sector.”
Employers who constantly lobby for H-1B visa cap increases routinely tell Congress that they face a labor shortage. What they really mean, according to Jennifer Hunt, a Rutgers University Professor of Economics, is that “there aren’t enough domestic workers to fill the jobs at the current wage.” Hunt stated the obvious when she added that increasing the prevailing wage would eventually make businesses unprofitable, untenable for employers.
Whenever the public reads about visas, they should substitute the words “American jobs.” Overwhelmingly, foreign-born visa holders are hired to do the exact same job that an American was doing or would eagerly do, a travesty considering displacement’s effect on further shrinking the American middle class.