Congressman Bill Pascrell

Representing the 9th District of NEW JERSEY

Don't Expand Troubled H-1b Visa Program

Jun 17, 2007
Op-Ed

In 1962 President John F. Kennedy said, "The vows of this nation can only be fulfilled if we are first, and therefore, we intend to be first. Our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort."

President Kennedy inspired generations of young American scientists and engineers to grow into a work force with the will, imagination, and resources to lead the world in technological innovation. And they have.

In recent years America's innovative brand has been overwhelmed by a corporate culture driven by dollars more than ideas. Droves of American high-tech professionals who hold advanced degrees in one hand, now hold a pink slip in the other. They have been replaced by foreign workers who are being "in-sourced" to do American jobs at un-American wages. It is only the latest blow to America's middle class.

Let's take the national debate over comprehensive immigration reform, for example. Buried within the most recent Senate plan is a relatively unknown provision that would expand the broken H-1B visa program by tripling the number of skilled workers permitted to gain temporary employment in the United States.

During the economic boom in the 1990s Congress temporarily expanded the H-1B visa program to meet the growing demand for workers in the information technology (IT) industry. But the temporary expansion, which was based on demand, has been reduced to a base form of corporate welfare.

Even renowned free-market thinker and Nobel economist Milton Friedman has characterized the H-1B program as a subsidy to employers, "enabling them to get workers at a lower wage, and to that extent, it is a subsidy."

In a recent study based on Department of Labor statistics, the Center for Immigration Studies revealed that actual wages reported for H-1B workers averaged $12,000 below the median wage for American workers in the same occupation and location. The same report showed that 84 percent of H-1B workers fall below the median U.S. wage.

In addition, the H-1B program is not adequately policed. It was created specifically to bring in foreign workers where no qualified American workers could be found. But today many of the applications for H-1B visas are laughable. Just this year the California Republican Par

H-1B: Harness more home-grown talent

ty applied for and received an H-1B visa to fill a high-ranking position for a deputy political director. Are we to really believe that America has suddenly run out of available political operatives? Sadly, the Department of Labor has publicly stated that it does not have the necessary authorization to administer the program correctly.

America can't afford a brain drain. Not in the 21st century. Our world grows more technologically advanced by the day. We will rely on our future generations to keep America's security and economy balanced on the cutting edge of technology. Endless employment opportunities in the IT industry await America's tech savvy work force. The U.S. government must make sure Americans have fair access to them.

That is why I introduced the bipartisan Defend the American Dream of 2007 in the House of Representatives.

Primarily, my legislation would take steps to ensure that employers pay the local prevailing wage to every worker. This would remove any undue incentive an employer may have to hire an H-1B visa holder. Second, it would force employers to actively recruit Americans before applying to sponsor an H-1B worker. Third, it would strengthen the Department of Labor's ability to enforce H-1B visa abuse by granting the department greater investigatory responsibility. Fourth, it would end the practice that certain employers have adopted of hoarding H-1B visas and farming them out to third party employers. Finally, my legislation would create whistleblower protections for employees who disclose information about potential violations of the H-1B requirements.

There is no doubt that America has the homegrown talent and educational resources to cultivate a world class high-tech work force. I question whether we have the will to let them succeed. Corporate executives cannot continue to claim the need to import foreign workers, while simultaneously turning a blind eye to the need to educate and promote our American work force.

America desperately needs a comprehensive immigration reform plan, but at what cost? I will not settle for any agreement that puts America's most innovative work force in the back seat, and neither would have President Kennedy.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, represents the 8th Congressional District.

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