The Four Dimensions of H-1B Reform

By David North, April 24, 2017

When contemplating the reform of the H-1B program, in order to reduce the damage to resident workers, we usually hear about the wages paid, which is appropriate, but less often is there any discussion of the other three dimensions of the situation. (H-1B workers are nonimmigrants and usually college graduates.)

Clearly, if a large number of H-1Bs are admitted at an average wage of, say, $10,000 or $15,000 a year below the market level, as is the current situation, that depresses that labor market. But there are other obvious dimensions, less often discussed:

  • How many workers are to be admitted? The Trump executive order, unfortunately does not deal with that variable.

  • How long will they be allowed to stay? This is rarely discussed, though my colleague John Miano has raised this issue.

In other words, the more admissions, the longer the length of stay, and the lower the wage, the more the labor market is adversely affected. One could work with one, two, or preferably, all three of these variables to seek to limit the damage on U.S. workers. Unfortunately, the Trump executive order deals only with the most dramatic of these variables, wages.

There is, of course, a fourth dimension, also ignored — time.

The sooner the number of new visas is reduced, and/or the length of the visas is reduced, or the wages raised, the sooner there will be a favorable impact on wages and working conditions for resident workers. So the longer the research and decision-making process that accompany the executive order, the less the impact.

The order calls for a lengthy process with no references to numbers and visa duration. So let's give the president a one-quarter thumbs up for the executive order (let's say the uplifting of the pinkie skyward.).