Compete America: Shattering Myths and Misconceptions About the H1B Program

H1B workers are a pillar of America’s high-tech economy, heavily relied on to bridge the gap between the short supply and high demand for top-flight technical talent. As we have noted in previous posts, the H1B program nonetheless has its critics, who labor under the mistaken impression that the program mainly benefits the lucky recipients of H1B visas, and the companies that hire them.

The facts show otherwise. In the interest of setting the record straight, here are some key insights from a backgrounder prepared by Compete America, a coalition of businesses, universities, research institutions, and trade associations that advocate a more robust U.S. commitment to high-tech immigration. [See Highly Educated Foreign-Born Professionals: Separating Myth from Reality, Compete America.] The article takes on several common misconceptions about the H1B program, pointing out that:

  • Foreign professionals DON’T take jobs from U.S. workers – the H1B visa program and EB green card actually create jobs for American workers, giving U.S. companies access to the STEM talent they need to innovate, grow, and compete in world markets. The article cites a study by Vivek Wadhwa and others, concluding that immigrant-founded businesses created about 450,000 jobs, as of 2005. Another study, from the National Foundation for American Policy, found that U.S. high-tech companies hire five additional workers for every H1B.
  • Foreign-born grad students are NOT automatically eligible to stay and work here – the reality is, we’re investing in the world’s best and brightest, giving them state-of-the-art technical training, then essentially sending them off to work for our competitors overseas. Why? Merely because the current H1B caps do not provide enough slots for all of the U.S.-trained but foreign-born STEM grads.
  • H1B workers are NOT a source of cheap labor – U.S. law not only requires that H1B professionals be paid the prevailing wage, and work under the same conditions as similarly situated U.S. workers, visa filing fees and the high costs of recruitment, administration, and compliance make the program anything but cheap for employers. Moreover, the article points to a 2011 Government Accountability Office report, which determined that the wages of H1B professionals generally match or exceed those of their U.S. counterparts.
  • The H1B cap does NOT expand in response to economic need – in fact, the cap has remained at 65,000 for several years now, with 20,000 more set aside under the master’s cap, for graduates with advanced degrees. This, despite the fact that, in most years, every available H1B slot is spoken for in a matter of weeks, even days. As the article observes: the cap is set based on political expedients, not economic necessity.
  • Foreign workers DO pay U.S. taxes – Compete America notes that “foreign workers residing in the United States pay the same taxes on worldwide income as U.S. workers. They also pay the same Social Security, unemployment, and state taxes.”

It’s a simple choice: if we want the benefits of an innovation economy, American companies need access to the global talent pool, and a greatly expanded H1B program would be a good way to provide this access. Without it, we limit the ability of U.S. companies to create the products of the future – and the world’s best and brightest will take their talents and creativity elsewhere. We realize we are largely preaching to the converted here, but maybe these points will go viral. Maybe that would help.

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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.