Here we go again in the immigration reform debate, controversy simmering where it doesn’t belong.
Granting 85,000 H1-B visas each year to highly skilled foreign-born workers who want to work in the U.S. was, until recently, an uncontroversial component of immigration. Its biggest flaw was the disconnect between the lower number of visas granted annually in comparison to the higher number of high-tech jobs vacant across the nation.
However, recent headlines of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump stirring the melting pot by going after Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s plea for a more open immigration policy to expand H1-B visas plus the claims that Disney ABC was going to replace highly-skilled American workers with lower-waged, foreign-born individuals is just the drama needed to increase unnecessary jitters in an already reform-apprehensive Congress.
For years, U.S. business advocates have urged Congress to double the numbers of visas granted annually to skilled immigrants as a way to fill job vacancies in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). There simply are not enough qualified Americans who want those jobs.
The Disney ABC news triggers faux justification among anti-immigrant pundits who are waving their “I told you so” finger into the public eye. The timing could not be worse for the economic growth of the country as elected officials just recently started to consider the idea of increasing annual H1-B visa numbers. Fixing the problem has been stagnant by those who avoid having the words “increase immigrant visas” attached to their names.
In relation to H1-B visas, three facts must become part of the national consciousness so that Congress does not continue to avoid reform that benefits businesses and strengthens the economy.
Fact must replace the myth that H1-B visa holders steal jobs from Americans. The shortage of Americans qualified for STEM jobs is staggering — by 2018 there is expected to be 2.4 million unfilled STEM jobs in the U.S., according to the National Center for Policy Analysis. Immigrants with advanced degrees in STEM fields are actually strong job creators. One hundred foreign-born workers are associated with an additional 262 jobs among U.S. citizens.
Secondly, U.S. corporations are not exploiting the H1-B visa lottery system to hire cheap labor. Rogue companies that try to use H1-B visas to attract foreign-labor to drive down company costs are investigated and fined by the U.S. Justice Department.
According to the American Institute for Economic Research, H-1B visa status does not account for differences in average wages in the U.S. When it comes to pay comparison in high-skilled fields, the difference lies in the sex and race of American workers, not country of citizenship. Women and African-American workers earn $6,000 to $20,000 less in many STEM fields than other employees.
Lastly, it is false to suggest that H1-B workers pay lower taxes than American-born employees. H-1B holders and U.S. citizens pay the same.
Immigration reform in the area of highly-skilled workers is important for Michigan. The state ranks third nationwide in the creation of new STEM jobs. Also, immigrants were key to the Detroit’s greatness decades ago, and immigration can play a critical role in its comeback, Gov. Rick Snyder has repeatedly and rightfully said.
It is crucial that the facts about H1-B visas are well understood. The increasing strength of our economy, and our unity, cannot afford to be weakened by immigration myths that create national dissention and halt reform.
Tel Ganesan is CEO and president of Kyyba Inc., a global staff augmentation and project solutions firm headquartered in Farmington Hills.