If Diversity Is Good, Why Not Extend It to the H-1B Program?

By David North on September 15, 2020

It is not too late for the Trump administration to make some changes in the immigration system that could usefully persist no matter which party wins in November.

For instance, let's think positively about the concept of diversification in the workplace.

We know that a major Wall Street bank, Citi, got a lot of good press when it announced that it had chosen a woman, Jane Fraser, to be its CEO; it is the first time that a really big bank has made such a selection.

Similarly, the Trump cabinet of 16 includes a Black man, a Latino man, an Asian woman, and a white woman; and Joe Biden has selected a Black woman as his running mate. In 2019 when the number of Black NFL coaches fell from eight to four, there was gnashing of teeth in some circles.

Diversity has been written, by Congress, into some parts of the immigration program; for instance, among numerically limited immigrants, no more than 7 percent of a year's arrivals can come from a single country; also there is the Diversity Visa Lottery, which spreads immigration opportunities to people from nations that rarely send us many migrants.

All of these activities, both in the private sector and in the public one, point in the same direction: Let's not let a single group, be they white males or somebody else, predominate in our society.

Meanwhile, however, there is a collection of huge outsourcing companies, typically controlled by males from south India, that are given free rein by our immigration system to hire virtually nothing but men, preferably young ones, from the southern part of the Indian Subcontinent. These hirings, via the H-1B nonimmigrant worker program, led to reports that the some of the outsourcing firms, which could hire from anywhere in the world, were hiring 97 percent to 99 percent of their workers from India. Just the opposite of diversity.

Currently, there are some not-very-stringent rules for H-1B-using firms, like the outsourcers, that have more than 50 workers and more than 50 percent of them are H-1Bs. The administration could build on that now thoroughly established definition of some major H-1B employers and simply add one more 50 to the requirements: If your firm falls into this category, it must hire no more than 50 percent of its H-1Bs from a single nation. I call it the 50-50-50 plan, and I suspect, but do not know, that it would require no changes in the law, just in the regulations and policies.

Why are overseas-based employers in the U.S. allowed to discriminate in favor of a selected demographic when U.S.-based employers are barred from such practices? Why should alien employers be allowed to discriminate not only against U.S. citizens, but against certain foreign ones (such as non-Indians) as well? Why should this continue in a government-created program? The imposition of such a rule would be fought vigorously by the Indian government, and would lead, I suspect, to the creation of jobs not only for non-Indian H-1Bs, but also, indirectly, to a reduction of the H-1B program to the betterment of America's own high-tech workers.

A Sneaky Suggestion. One of the things that the Trump administration might do, either when facing probable defeat, or after such a defeat, would be to issue new regulations that would be in keeping with its own immigration policies, and ones that would be awkward for the incoming Democrats to reverse.

For example, the administration might simply announce that it had opened up 200,000 good jobs, over a period of two years, to citizen and green card college grads, without spending a dime of the taxpayers' money. As part and parcel of this operation, it would cause increased payments of some $2 billion a year to go into the stressed Social Security, Medicare, and Federal unemployment trust funds.

These would be the result of simply cancelling the Optional Practical Training program, but allowing foreign alumni who held these jobs to continue working until their one-or-two-year work permits expire. OPT offers all employers, and some alien workers, a substantial tax break, the lack of payroll taxes (for the trust funds) when the employers hire recent alien college grads — but no such tax advantages come to employers hiring citizen (or green-card) grads.

On balance, the abolition of OPT would be a winner for the GOP: It might attract votes from voters of all ages, while it would not reduce support from those parts of big business that are wedded to Trump anyway. Since OPT exists as an Executive Branch whim, without any congressional mandate, it would be relatively easy to dismantle.

Such a move would give Trump an opportunity to thunder at the subsidies to employers of alien grads — the heart of the OPT program — as a terrible waste of government funds (even though he has ignored that waste for three and a half years.)

The abolition of the OPT program would create a problem for the incoming Biden administration, if there is one; it would force it to make a choice between American workers, together with our infirm and elderly, on one hand, and big-business employers, on the other.

If the Biden administration were to inherit an existing OPT program, as the Obama administration did, it would probably simply allow it to continue, as Obama did. However, if it had to impose such a program, it might not do so; or it might not be quite so generous to employers who are currently subsidized not to hire American workers.

Similarly, the Trump administration could leave behind the suggested 50-50-50 rules in the H-1B program, giving Biden another unhappy choice — continue to provide these jobs to a diversified population, or to take away these jobs and give them all back to young semi-indentured males from the South of India.

In short, there is still time for Trump administration to use creativity regarding foreign worker programs.