84% of Aliens Admitted in 1st Year of Senate High-Tech Bill Won't Be High-Tech Workers

By David North, January 23, 2015

Congress is about to pass a high-tech foreign worker bill that will — oddly — in its first year, admit something like 430,000 additional temporary workers, about 84 percent of whom will not have high-tech credentials.

That's right — the vast majority of these new nonimmigrant workers will not be admitted because of their technical skills.

This will be in addition to the routine annual admission of about one million permanent resident aliens, and another million nonimmigrant workers of various kinds.

The bill is the highly touted, unfortunately bi-partisan, "Immigration Innovation Act of 2015" (S.153), with the sponsors' fond nickname "I Squared Act". It will allow roughly the doubling or tripling of H-1B slots each year and is based on the wholly fallacious, but widespread, belief that there is some kind of "shortage" of high-tech workers in the United States. (A summary of the bill is also available.)

The ultra-rich employers of Silicon Valley want the legislation to keep down wages and to allow them to ignore American high-tech workers, particularly those over 35, and hire more lower-cost, indentured computer programmers and engineers under the existing H-1B program. Most of these workers are from India, with the second largest delegation coming from China.

There are currently generous annual allocations of visas for these H-1B workers, with a ceiling of 65,000 for general-duty high-tech workers, another one of 20,000 high-tech workers with U.S. advanced degrees, and yet another allocation, without a limit, for H-1B workers assigned to universities and to entities regarded as affiliated with those universities. (The administration has taken umbrage at all attempts to narrow the definition of "affiliated" in these cases.)

Since the visas last a long time, and are often bridges to permanent resident alien status, I estimate there are something like 900,000 active H-1B visas at any given time; the holders are thus a major portion of the high-tech work force. There has been much written on the evils of this program by, among others, my CIS colleague John Miano, a New Jersey lawyer, and by Professor Norman Matloff of UC-Davis, including his most recent blog on the subject.

430,000 Additional Workers? The reader may wonder about the 430,000 more new workers figure noted above. Why has that not appeared earlier? Where does it come from?

Whenever possible the mas-migration forces do not deal in numbers, or blur them, or mumble them, because letting the American public know the numerical impact of their maneuvers is like shining a bright light on a messy problem; it is politically counter-productive. So numbers remain hidden. Here are the sources of my estimate of extra foreign workers arriving in our labor markets in the first year that the legislation is in effect:

More Garden Variety H-1Bs. The current limit is 65,000 for new garden-variety H-1Bs each year; the new law creates general limits that are not limits at all, and vary between 115,000 (in the first year) and 195,000 in each subsequent year depending on the demand, with the actual formula being both immensely complicated and very generous to the industry. Let's say that in the first year the upper limit is reached and we get 50,000 more of these H-1Bs.

More H-1Bs with Advanced U.S. Degrees. The current limit is 20,000 and applications for these slots exceeded last year's quota by an unknown, but probably small number; these workers are more expensive than other H-1B workers and there is a finite supply of them, so the likelihood is that removing this ceiling will produce no more than 20,000 additional H-1Bs than in earlier years.

There are other elements in S.153 to aid foreign high-tech workers, but they tend to extend legal status or green card status to workers already here in H-1B or other nonimmigrant statuses. I do not think that these provisions will add many more foreign workers to the U.S. labor force because for the most part they are already here.

Green Light for Jobs for H-1B Spouses. Currently none of these (H-4) aliens are allowed to work here and presumably this keeps them out of the legal labor market, keeps some of the potential H-4s home in India and China, and discourages marriages in other cases. So how many H-1B spouses are here in the United States, not working, and how many more would come to the States were they to be able to work here?

The government has not provided any data on this point that I am aware of, nor has it made any effort to estimate (much less count) the number of H-1B workers in the nation at any point in time. Four years ago I estimated that as of 9/30/09 there were 650,000 H-1B workers in the nation. I have not revised my estimates since, but would not at all be surprised, given the rising influx of H-1Bs, that an additional 50,000 were added to the population in each of the following years, producing a current rough estimate of the H-1B population of 900,000.

Piling estimate on estimate, an admittedly shaky procedure, the question becomes what percentage of the resident H-1Bs would, under the proposed law, be: 1) married; 2) to an alien spouse who is resident in the United States; and 3) who wants to work? Bear in mind that the H-1Bs, mostly recent college graduates, are of a marriageable age (low 20s to 40), And are considered "catches" because of their high — by Indian standards — wages. (Some former H-1Bs have, of course, married U.S. citizens, but if they have done so, they have green cards already and do not count in these calculations.)

There is one roughly comparable population to the H-1Bs under immigration law, the L-1 workers who are intracompany transferees (i.e., managerial-level workers for multi-national firms); their spouses are L-2s and are allowed to work in the United States. For every 10 admissions of L-1s in FYs 2012 and 2013, there were just over four admissions of L-2s, according to the government's Annual Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Table 25.

That suggests that about 40 percent of the H-1Bs would have spouses who would take advantage of the ability to work in the United States, and 40 percent of 900,000 would be 360,000 additional workers in the American labor market.

So, 360,000 + 50,000 + 20,000 = 430,000.

About 84 percent of the new workers, then, would not be selected because of their high-tech work skills, they would simply be brought into the U.S. labor market because of an accident of marriage. While unemployment rates are dropping slowly, the nation clearly does not need nearly half a million new workers, and certainly not 360,000 without high-tech credentials. (The percentage of new high-tech workers to the total admitted under the law will rise in subsequent years — here we are focusing on the first year's impact.)

The new H-4 workers, however, would be highly likely to land American jobs; they are all married to college grads, by definition, are mostly middle to upper-middle class in background, and for the vast majority from India, likely to be English-speaking.

Meanwhile, rarely discussed, is the motivation of Silicon Valley for this move: it is obvious, but hidden. They want these workers (mostly women) to get jobs to lessen the pressure on the fat-cat firms to pay their spouses competitive wages.

I worry that S.153 will sail through the Senate, which in 2013 passed similar provisions for the IT industry. Maybe — and this could be daydreaming — the House Republicans could add a poison pill amendment saying that the high-tech workers could be admitted only if the Obama administration eliminates its executive amnesty.

Meanwhile, you may be sure that the number — 430,000 additional workers — will never be spoken by the bill's supporters.