H-1B Visas Flood U.S. Labor Markets with Bush-League Workers

By John Miano on June 20, 2012

Tim Hernholtz has an interesting blog post on Reuters titled "The NBA has America's model migrant worker program".

Mr. Hernholtz notes the number of foreign players in the NBA and notes that allowing the best players from around the world play in America improves the sport.

To that there is little disagreement.

Mr. Hernholtz then takes a deviation from reality. He states, "But Silicon Valley doesn't have the same international labor mobility as the sports leagues" and goes on to lament the quota on H-1B visas.

Silicon Valley has the exact same access to top talent as the NBA does. The very same O (Extraordinary Ability) visa the NBA uses to import top athletes is also open to Silicon Valley to import technology talent. The O visa has no annual limits.

It is the H-1B visa — open to any Tom, Dick, or Harry with a mail-order college degree — that has annual limits.

Before going to law school, I worked with a large number of workers on H-1B visas. The few, very best among them were of average skill. The overwhelming majority were blithering incompetents.

On one of my last projects, our database administrator was an H-1B worker supplied by a bodyshop. This DBA knew nothing about databases and spent all of her time reading manuals to try and figure things out.

So why would a company hire a consultant who knew nothing? Simple. The people doing purchasing could brag to their management that she was $10 an hour cheaper. For companies selling H-1B workers, an incompetent person who takes more billable hours to complete a given task means more revenue.

As Mr. Hernholtz observes, it makes sense to let NBA-level talent into the United States. However, it also makes sense to limit the number of bush-league-level technology workers who come in on H-1B visas, especially at a time when so many recent U.S. college graduates are unemployed.