To support President Trump's drive to help middle-class Americans, he can, without any help from Congress, create half a million more white collar jobs for legal U.S. residents, each job averaging $85,000 a year, by simply cutting the H-1B program in half over time.
This will upset a lot of folks in Silicon Valley and in the Indian outsourcing companies, but it will show he is serious about more jobs for Americans.
He can do this by setting a ceiling for each H-1B employer of half of that company's H-1B staff, as of, say, April 30, 2018; the Department of Homeland Security will then issue only enough H-1B extensions so that the 50 percent reduction goal will be met by Election Day 2020. (Although annual grants of new visas are set by statute, extensions for those already here are determined by DHS.)
This will create a gradual reduction, no more than 1.7 percent a month in the H-1B work force, so that the firms now using H-1B workers can gradually expand the number of U.S. workers. There are plenty of highly qualified Americans to do this work.
There are those who want to eliminate the program completely, and there is much to be said for that argument; but this reduction is gradual enough so that it will cause no serious inconvenience for employers.
Most of the focus of the ongoing H-1B debates is over the congressionally established partial ceiling that is used for newly arrived workers in this class. It is 65,000 a year for college grads, 20,000 for those with masters' degrees, and an unlimited number of admissions for universities and organizations linked to them. There would be no change in these admission requirements, but some employers might want to reduce their own intake of new people to keep a larger portion of the ones already employed.
Despite this focus on the annual influx of new H-1Bs, most H-1Bs are here on earlier admission decisions and on extensions of their visas. Hence, unless Congress shows some grit and reduces H-1B admissions, a cutback on extensions is the only way to make the needed reductions. Since Congress has given itself no power over the extensions, the administration could simply set an upper limit on the number of H-1B extensions it allowed, and do so employer-by-employer.
The basic numbers here relate to the average wage of the H-1B workers and the size of the estimated work force.
While the government, at least in past administrations, has been unwilling to publish either a count or an estimate of the size of the H-1B population — presumably to avoid upsetting any apple carts — the median salary of H-1B beneficiaries is published; it was $79,000 in 2015 and $82,000 in 2016; that $3,000 increase suggests it will be at least $85,000 in FY 17. These are good wages, and the suggestions by academics funded by Silicon Valley that Americans can neither do this work nor have the needed qualifications are simply wrong.
Eight and a half years ago I estimated, painstakingly, that there were then 650,000 H-1Bs working in the nation. Since the 85,000 ceiling has been met every year and there has been no reduction in extensions, the current total cannot be less than one million.
If anything, the one million estimate is a very conservative one, and the $85,000 estimate probably should be a bit higher as well.
So this policy might well create more than half a million jobs, and the salaries might be rather more than $85,000 a year.