Help Wanted : Skilled Immigrants

To all except those on the exclusionist fringe, it has become a commonplace that immigration is vital to our economic growth. A recent op-ed piece in the pages of Investor’s Business Daily is the latest of many to make precisely that point. (See: To Thrive, U.S. Needs Skilled Immigrants, by Alex Nowrasteh, Investor’s Business Daily, 25.Mar.2010) Immigration skeptics take note: the author of the piece, Alex Nowrasteh, is a policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning Washington think tank that promotes free enterprise and small government. In other words, this cannot be dismissed as left-wing “propaganda.”

Nowrasteh argues that, when attention finally turns to immigration reform, illegal immigration and the so-called “amnesty issue” will likely get all of the attention, while “the plight of highly-skilled foreign temporary workers and immigrants will be ignored and the labor demands of U.S. firms will go unsatisfied.” Nowrasteh says that demand for H1B visas normally exceeds the supply by several thousand applicants, noting that even the 2009 H1B quota was eventually filled, despite the recession. He further contends that the H1B process has become so onerous that many companies in need of H1B workers simply throw up their hands and decide not to apply – so the gap between H1B supply and actual demand is arguably much greater than the number of known applications would suggest.

Why aren’t more H1B visas available each year? Nowrasteh argues that the H1B program is shadowed by misinformation, and hints that xenophobia may play a role. “Skilled workers on H1Bs and other skilled permanent immigrants are rarely seen and hardly ever the topic of public policy debate. But when they are mentioned they are smeared by restrictionists who want to close the border and prevent foreigners, no matter what their skills or benefits, from moving to America.”

According to Nowrasteh, the most persistent misconception – the one that most hinders progress toward more realistic immigration targets – is the idea that foreign workers will “take” American jobs. This is “flawed thinking,” Nowrasteh says, citing a report from the National Foundation for American Policy that “for every H1B position requested, U.S. technology firms increase their employment by five workers,” because they only file for H1Bs when they are expanding. Moreover, Nowrasteh argues that “foreign workers are imperfect substitutes for U.S.-born workers even when they have the same education and experience,” and, in any case, they “generally choose different occupations and have different skills and experience compared to native workers.”

Nowrasteh also takes aim at the popular myth that H1B workers are hired as low-wage substitutes for American workers – an argument that makes no sense, he says, pointing to the decrease in H1B applications during the recent recession, a time when businesses were especially keen to cut costs. He also attacks the misconception that H1B workers are a drain on the welfare system, noting that “the 1996 welfare reform act prohibited federal welfare payments for people with work visas,” and that most H1B workers are young, male and healthy, and thus “under-consume” social services that in most cases are designed to help women, the elderly, and the sick.

Far from being a drain on society, Nowrasteh concludes, skilled immigrants “create businesses, they speak English, and they contribute to America’s economy and culture. We shouldn’t waste scarce security resources chasing down every Indian, Chinese, or Irish computer programmer who wants to make a life in the U.S.” Some might take offense at a suggestion, implicit in Nowrasteh’s argument, that there are “good immigrants” and “bad immigrants,” and that we should keep the “good” ones while chasing down the “bad.” Still, his underlying point is sound: that “Congress and the administration should prop the door wide open” for highly skilled workers.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.