On April 1 of each year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration
Services (USCIS) starts accepting applications for the H-1B visa.
For the past several years, the number of H-1B visa applications
has easily surpassed the annual cap of 65,000, sometimes in a
matter of days. Even with the economic downturn, the USCIS is still
expected to receive enough applications to fill the 65,000 cap.
Congress must raise the H-1B cap back to 195,000 visas per
year--the maximum allowed as recently as 2001.Raising the cap for
H-1B visas will not steal American jobs but will help promote
economic growth and generate much needed tax revenue.
More H-1B Visas Helps the Economy
H-1B visas are non-immigrant visas designated for highly skilled
foreign workers with a college degree or higher. This visa is by
far the most-used visa; the USCIS often receives hundred of
thousands of applications within the first couple of days. H-1B
visas can be used by a wide range of professions, from fashion
models to nurses, but they are mostly used by high-tech workers
such as engineers or computer programmers.
There is a popular myth that H-1B workers displace Americans
because foreigners will work for less than Americans even if they
have greater qualifications. This notion is so widespread that
Congress recently passed an amendment barring companies receiving
TARP money from hiring H-1B employees.
But this notion is entirely false. H-1B visas are provided to
foreign workers only if employers prove that they are paying
prevailing wages (equivalent to American wages for that
occupation). In addition, employers must show that no American
workers with the appropriate qualifications were available.
This is self evident when one sees the effects of the H-1B visa
shortage on companies. When companies cannot get H-1B visas for
potential employees, they do not turn around and hire American
workers; rather, they leave those jobs unfilled or expand outside
the United States.
This was the case for Microsoft, which in 2008 decided to open a
branch in Vancouver, Canada, to staff the 150 engineers who were
not fortunate enough to get H-1B visas. A survey by the National
Foundation for American Policy found that 65 percent of high-tech
companies employed people outside the United States due to their
inability to obtain H-1B visas.
In reality, H-1B visas spur economic growth. The National
Foundation for American Policy showed that, on average, for every
H-1B employee hired, an additional five American employees were
also hired. If Microsoft had opened its branch in the United States
rather than Vancouver, they would have hired American workers to
staff and operate the new branch in addition to their H-1B
H-1B workers are some of the best and brightest in the world.
Ensuring that they work in the United States for American
businesses will only help the economy.
H-1Bs Create Tax Revenue
President Obama has promised to cut the deficit in half in five
years. Expanding the H-1B visa would be a relatively small but
beneficial step in that direction. If Congress were to increase the
H-1B cap to 195,000 visas, the U.S. government would receive an
additional $2 billion of tax revenue each year. That number would
significantly increase as H-1B workers finish their three-year
terms and new foreign workers enter the program.
The Time to Act
Congress has failed to raise H-1B caps for several years despite
the wide range of support to do so. Raising H-1B caps will provide
businesses the professionals and skills they need to develop their
business when ready. Congress must:
- Raise the cap back to 195,000 visas per year.
- Make the cap flexible. As the U.S. economy fluctuates through
its business cycles, the demand for H-1B visas will rise and fall.
Congress should establish a quota that, if met, automatically
increases for the next year. In addition, unused visas should be
recaptured for the next fiscal year.
Allowing the appropriate levels of high skilled workers into the
United States helps the American worker, the economy, and America's
federal budget. There is no good reason not to act.
McNeill is Policy Analyst for Homeland Security, and Diem
Nguyen is a Research Assistant, in the Douglas and Sarah Allison
Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and
Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The