H-1B Visas & American Workers


Manufacturing employment in Cleveland, OH MSA.

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H-1B Visas & American Workers

U.S. unemployment remains stubbornly high and the disappearance of the American middle class have both become prime mid-term election issues.

One of the problems that may contribute to both is the expansion of the H1-B worker visa program. This program allows skilled immigrants to work in the United States on a temporary basis, and enables American companies and universities to hire foreign scientists, engineers, and programmers.

Some research shows clearly that importing labor adds significant benefits to state and local economies.

The influx of workers enlarges the tax base, and there is job growth through additional goods and services consumed by the workers. SIRS Issues Researcher part of the  SIRS Knowledge Source database  can help you find resources to back up this “pro” position.

Overall, the U.S. economy has always thrived by importing smart foreigners and letting them work alongside their U.S.-born counterparts. Did you know that 25 percent of all tech and engineering startups were founded by immigrants, according to some studies?

Some say that this may be the basis for the technological lead America enjoys over other countries. Still, other countries are rapidly catching up, and the thicket of regulation and the hassle of dealing with Homeland Security following the 9/11 terrorist attacks makes some people more reluctant to come to the United States.

Still, some argue that the H-1B law lacks adequate safeguards to protect natively-born workers from being displaced, and may be abused by some industries to provide artifically cheaper labor.

Although requirements say employers must pay the “prevailing wage,” numerous loopholes mean there is little real-world wage protection for either U.S. citizens or the H-1B guest workers. Moreover, employers almost never have to certify that no qualified U.S. workers are available before hiring an H-1B. Certification is nearly an automatic rubber stamp.

The most common field in which employers hire H-1B visa holders is software development. The visas granted in computer-related fields are 10 times more numerous than in the next most common tech field, electrical engineering. Once again, the tech industry is putting heavy pressure on Congress to expand the H-1B visa program. Though the industry says the foreign workers are needed to remedy a tech labor shortage, this flies in the face of the economic data.

A Business Week article has pointed out that starting salaries for new bachelor’s and master’s degree graduates in computer science and electrical engineering, adjusted for inflation, have been flat or falling in recent years. This belies the industry’s claim of a labor shortage.

The H-1B program does not require most employers to give hiring priority to qualified U.S. citizens and permanent residents. If the employer is also sponsoring the foreign worker for a green card, there is such a requirement, but again loopholes render the rule meaningless. As prominent immigration attorney Joel Stewart has said, “Employers who favor aliens have an arsenal of legal means to reject all U.S. workers who apply.”

Learning Activity

Students should create a report of at least 150 words, or a presentation of at least seven slides (links to models provided at end of activity) that cites at least three resources. Students should use the pathfinder listed below for best results.

Students should address the following essential questions for critical thinking (you can create or substitute others):

  • Who are some of the largest proponents of H-1B Visas and what industries do they represent?
  • What are the arguments for the H-1B Visa program to import foreign workers?
  • What are the arguments for curtailing the H-1B Visa program made by proponents for American workers?
  • What is your recommendation to address this controversy and why?

Pathfinder- using the SIRS Issues Researcher part of the  SIRS Knowledge Source database:

Type “H-1B Visa” in the Quick Search box > Sort results by Date

Students can use the custom ProQuest models for written and PowerPoint-style reports.

Teachers may be interested in a ProQuest flexible rubrics model for evaluating inquiry-based learning activities.

Educators may also wish to employ the Quizinator Web tool (free, but registration required) for creating a variety of printed resources, including short assessments.

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