- - Monday, November 4, 2019

President Trump’s administration is delivering for American workers. During his time as president, the number of H-1B guestworker visa denials are at a decade high.

For years, employers have used the H-1B program to displace qualified Americans and import cheaper foreign labor. Tightening this program’s requirements could save millions of Americans from layoffs and lower wages.

Congress created the H-1B program in 1990. Lawmakers wanted to give companies a way to recruit highly skilled foreigners when they couldn’t find any qualified Americans. Unfortunately, when the law was written it allowed employers to exploit the program to use guest workers to displace qualified Americans.

Today, big companies, especially tech firms, use it to hire entry-level workers from abroad — mainly from India — who are willing to work for less money than their American counterparts. Currently, almost half a million H-1B visas holders work in the United States. And 85,000 more join their ranks each year.

Most of these foreigners possess no extraordinary skills or abilities. Over 50 percent of H-1B guest workers toil away in entry-level positions, according to the Government Accountability Office. About one in four H-1B applications — which are filed by companies, not the foreigners themselves — are for jobs that don’t even require a bachelor’s degree.

It’s not as if Americans are unwilling or unable to perform these jobs. Today, Americans graduate college at unprecedented rates. Roughly one in five graduates earn a degree in science, technology, math, or engineering — the so-called STEM fields that undergird much of the 21st-century economy.

Yet more than half of all STEM graduates can’t find jobs in their fields upon graduation.

In other words, H-1B guest workers aren’t simply filling gaps in the labor market; they’re taking jobs that could otherwise go to qualified Americans.

Many foreign workers willingly accept lower salaries than Americans working the same positions. Four in five H-1B holders earn less than the U.S. average wage for their jobs, according to Labor Department data.

In some cases, employers actually terminate Americans to free up jobs for guest workers.

In 2014, Disney infamously laid off 250 U.S. tech professionals — but not before forcing these workers to train their H-1B replacements. The “happiest company on Earth” threatened to withhold laid-off employees’ severance if they refused to cooperate. Just last year, Verizon announced it would outsource as many as 5,000 jobs to Infosys — an Indian offshoring giant that applied for over 11,000 H-1B visas this year alone.

Even American tech workers who keep their jobs still suffer from the H-1B program. “Wages for U.S. computer scientists would have been 2.6 percent to 5.1 percent higher and employment in computer science for U.S. workers would have been 6.1 percent to 10.8 percent higher in 2001” had the H-1B program not existed in the 1990s, according to a research paper from economists at the University of Michigan and University of California, San Diego.

Companies claim the H-1B program spurs innovation and gives U.S. companies a way to attract the best and brightest workers from around the world.

But the evidence doesn’t support those claims. A 2016 study from economists at the University of Notre Dame, University of California, Berkeley, and the Treasury Department finds that when companies secure new H-1B visas, it has “insignificant and at most modest effects on firms’ patenting.”

Those H-1B visas do, however, lead to “lower average employee earnings and higher firm profits.”

The H-1B program particularly hurts female tech workers, who already struggle to get ahead in their predominantly male industry. The proportion of women working in computer science has declined since the 1980s, in part because companies increasingly rely on H-1B laborers, three in four of whom are men.

Thankfully, Mr. Trump and his aides are working to reform the system and protect American jobs. The president directed the Department of Homeland Security to issue H-1B visas to only the most-skilled applicants under his “Buy American, Hire American” executive order. He’s also considering capping visas issued to Indian applicants.

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump pledged to put American workers first. He’s keeping that promise when it comes to H-1B reform.

Ryan Girdusky is a writer based out of New York City.

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