IMMI-GREAT OR NOT

US think-tank says Trump and Obama ignored nearly a million “victims” of H-1B

Keep ’em out or keep ’em coming?
Keep ’em out or keep ’em coming?
Image: Reuters/Stephen Lam
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An anti-immigration non-profit in the US has accused two successive governments of inaction on curtailing the H-1B visa programme, which it says has cost 1.2 million jobs to Americans.

Barack Obama and Donald Trump have deep-seated biases towards migrant and illegal workers, which has created a blind spot for them, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) has said in a blogpost on Dec. 23.

“I suspect that neither president, for different reasons, can identify with the victims, the citizen and green card college grads who have been shouldered aside by the two programs just identified,” CIS fellow David North wrote. “Trump, though the holder of one Ivy League degree, rightfully thinks that most US college grads are not his supporters, and Obama, holder of two Ivy League degrees, may have a hard time seeing a relatively well-off, largely white population as a group of victims. Further, Trump, who in his business life used nonimmigrant (and illegal) workers, can identify with the employers and Obama (who spent some of his early years in Asia) might identify with the largely Asian workforce.”

As per CIS, Americans have lost out 900,000 jobs to migrants on H-1B visas, and 300,000 jobs to those on the Optional Practical Training (OPT) programme during the tenure of the two presidents.

The H-1B visa, which allows high-skilled foreigner workers to live and work in the US for up to six years, is doled out to 85,000 people each year. OPT lets new college alumni work for up to three years in the US.

The foreign-local paradox

Although North is dismissive of employers and lobbyists arguing that there is a shortage of high-tech workers in the country, these claims have to be taken with a pinch of salt considering CIS is classified as an anti-immigrant hate group. It has long published works by white nationalist and anti-semitic writers and hyped the criminality of immigrants, among other things.

In fact, other experts are of the opinion that talent from abroad plugs many gaps, especially in cutting-edge fields such as cloud, big data, and mobile computing.

More than half of the country’s top artificial intelligence talent base is composed of foreign nationals. US technology firms currently rely heavily on temporary-hire foreign workers to fulfil critical shortages in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) occupations, a report from the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) argues, advocating that the H1-B visa cap be raised for all and removed entirely advanced-degree holders.

Many of the biggest American corporations, including Microsoft, Google, Adobe, and Pepsi, have been helmed by Indian leaders. Over half of the unicorns in America as of October 2018 had an immigrant founder.

There’s even monetary benefits at play: In the decade leading up to 2012, the federal government has distributed about $1 billion from H-1B visa fees to fund programmes to address skills shortages in the US workforce, think tank Brookings Institute noted.

Even the OPT programme—that North criticises for being a government subsidised setup that lets employers avoid social security, medicare, and federal unemployment trust funds they would’ve had to pay if an American was hired—is actually helping the American economy.

Scaling back the OPT programme would result in the loss of 443,000 jobs over the next decade, including 255,000 jobs held by US-born workers, a December 2018 study by Business Roundtable found. Eventually, wages and US GDP would suffer due to increased slack in the labor market and fewer productivity gains.