DHS Should Discourage H-1B Hiring by Its Contractors

By David North on July 11, 2017

If the Trump administration is really interested in preserving good jobs for U.S. residents (citizens and green card holders), it should push its contractors to avoid hiring H-1Bs. And the Department of Homeland Security should lead the way.

This thought struck me as I was reading another one of those articles about how DHS is buying technology (belatedly) that would allow us to keep track of arriving and departing aliens. That's a task that Fiji — little Fiji — accomplished more than 30 years ago, a subject to which I will return.

The article was from Bloomberg, and it said that DHS was planning tests of a facial recognition system at airports and at the Mexican border this summer. It went on to say: "DHS has spent less than $1 million on unclassified facial recognition contract obligations to date," which struck me as a remarkably low number given the complications of such a system. Or maybe most of the contracts are classified.

But what caught my eye was the naming of three (presumably small) contractors working on the matter: FS Partners LLP, Govplace, and ThunderCat Technology LLC. These were new names to me and I wondered to what extent they were H-1B employers.

Using the Myvisajobs website and its employer search tool, I checked the records of the three firms over the last five years and found that none of them had sought H-1B workers. To make sure that all the blanks I was getting was not the fault of the system, I asked about the job history of Infosys, the massive Indian outsourcing company, and found that it had filed for 39,940 H-1Bs in the latest round — greedy Infosys said it wanted almost half the 85,000 visas available.

Reassured that the reporting system was working, I wondered if the DHS selection of the three firms without any recent H-1B hires was an accident or if it had been deliberate. I suspect the former, but that need not be the case.

Why shouldn't DHS simply announce that in the future it will not contract with H-1B-dependent firms (this term applies, for example, to firms with 51 or more workers of whom 15 percent or more are H-1Bs). At the same time, DHS could announce that it will in the future only work with firms that were neither H-1B dependent, nor sub-contracted with such firms. Further, there should be some points given, in competitions among non-H-1B-dependent firms, to those with the smallest numbers of H-1Bs on the payroll.

We often forget that government can set standards as a customer as well as a regulator.

Tracking those coming and going from Fiji, I must admit, is a bit simpler for that island nation than it is for the United States. The Fijian government was not interested in the handfuls arriving or departing by sea and there was only a single international airport, Nadi, so everyone came and went through the same place. Nevertheless, in the 1980's when I was coming home from a consulting assignment with the Australian government, I stopped in Fiji to see the nation's immigration commissioner and he proudly showed me how the newly computerized system worked.

Was there, I asked, a population of particular interest? There was. The government (presumably egged on by existing missionary organizations) wanted to keep track of any new, unlicensed missionaries who might give the current ones some unwanted competition.

You could view the attitude of the Fijian government of that time as protecting the interests of a specialized part of the local labor force — those who wore clerical collars.