H-1B Visas, the AFL-CIO and the Need for Change

The H-1B visa is not working well for visa holders, certain U.S. workers or the U.S. government. A report published by the AFL-CIO is a fascinating read on the subject.
Written by Brian Sommer, Contributor

Get a cup of coffee and read this report.

The AFL-CIO has weighed in on the U.S. visa situation (i.e., the situation involving L-1, H-1B and other work permits). They have produced a report titled, Gaming the System, and it is an interesting 52-page read.

This report looks at the effect of U.S. visa policies, especially around H-1B visas. The authors focus much of their research on the STEM occupations (i.e., Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and on the education sector. The authors did a fairly good job of chasing the policy, law, lobbying and results of same since the mid-1990s.

Some of the points this paper makes are pretty hard to dispute. For example:

1) It’s hard to argue that job shortages exist when wages have failed to rise in many professions. If scarcity really existed, why have average salaries flat-lined or declined?

2) Visa holders are getting taken advantage of by individuals and companies on both sides of the transaction. There are many documented examples of abuse in this report. One story of Filipino teachers being forced to live 4-8 in a single, roach-infested apartment is tough to forget.

3) Businesses that argued just a few years ago that the U.S. would face a shortage of skilled graduates in STEM disciplines never took into account that other technologies (e.g., low-cost telephony and ubiquitous Internet access) would permit offshore workers to do many of the tasks previously performed within the U.S. by workers in STEM professions. As this report documents, the expected shortages never appeared and wages never rose. These same businesses could actually be at fault for driving away potential college graduates into these fields by their deep layoffs, lack of career path and usage of lower cost offshore workers.

Some of the material in this report is intended to provoke a reaction. One sidebar certainly got my attention. It is found on page 14 and it refers to seminars offered by Cohen and Grisby. It purportedly suggests methods firms might use to avoid hiring U.S. citizens.

Yes, this report is by the AFL-CIO but it’s a pretty good read and anyone who thinks the U.S. visa process is working well or correctly needs to get this report. Beyond the rhetoric, the report definitely leaves you with one very spot-on conclusion: the U.S. visa system is broken, poorly managed and needs an overhaul.

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