Biased Reporting on Temporary Workers: H-1B Dentists Losing Their Jobs

By David North on May 1, 2020

Journalists, and I used to be one of them, find people much more interesting than systems; this is all too true when immigration is the topic.

Today's example is a Bloomberg News account of two dentists from India, married to each other, who have been working as professionals for at least five years (collectively) in the American economy and now face the expiration of their H-1B visas because they have been laid off by their employers.

If that is not bad enough, they also have a combined $520,000 in student debts, and paying that off from India would be difficult to impossible.

The organ music swells.

The writers describe the attractive, nicely dressed pair's woes without a line about either the couple's peculiar financial situation (dentists are, shall we say, at least junior members of the nation's financial elite) or about the system that allowed them to run up such a debt. These are, after all, former F-1 visa holders who had to promise the government that, according to this USCIS website, they "have sufficient funds available for self-support during the entire proposed course of study."

Needing to borrow more than half a million dollars to support the couple's studies (and perhaps their lifestyles) suggests that they did not meet this sensible governmental requirement. Does Bloomberg discuss that obvious issue? No, but we do learn that the male dentist is starting to lose his hair.

First-year salaries for recent dental graduates were $118,000 two years ago, according to one website, and have presumably increased since that time.

It is not that the couple did not have some time to at least pay down their debts. The article says that she has been working for two years for a particular practice; it says that his visa is about to run out. So she has worked as a dentist for at least two years, and since these visas run for three years, he has worked at least three years as a dentist. That's a total of at least five years of employment in a well-paid profession.

This skewed treatment of immigration issues is not new. People are much easier to write about, and are a more attractive subject than systems. Do we hear about a useful by-product of the current economic situation, the reduction of the employment of H-1B workers, which can be very helpful to faceless American workers? To ask the question is to answer it.

There are, of course, layoffs of H-1B workers, and this comes as a disappointment to the individuals, but it should be borne in mind that they voluntarily signed up for a temporary work visa, and the word "temporary" has a meaning.

The government is not about to deport the dentists, something the writers do not mention, nor do they discuss the easy answer to their apparent immigration problem — they could simply sign up for one of those not-too-demanding master's programs offered to foreign students, programs that deliberately provide classes in the evenings and on the weekend, and they could continue to work while using the Optional Practical Training program.

Or they could find a university that provides, among other things, dental services to inner city or rural residents, a university that has, as all universities do, an unlimited right to use H-1B placements. If such jobs do not now exist, they certainly should, perhaps funded by one of the various disaster relief programs.

Another possibility is switching to J-1 status, which has its advantages and disadvantages, but what the two dentists want is to stay in exactly their current status, and they and the reporters who write about them, do not think about alternative ways of retaining status generally.