My colleague John Miano reported late last month on the highly suspect legal status of the H-4 workers DHS will authorize to start work in the next few weeks — these are a subset of the dependents of H-1B workers, usually spouses of programmers or other IT workers.
Now, let me tell you about the impact that they will have on the American labor market: It will take away jobs from as many as 179,600 U.S. workers — that's the government estimate — and, indirectly, will swell the coffers of some of America's most prosperous companies. Most of these will be white collar jobs.
This is a stealth work force and its impact on various U.S. labor markets will be so scattered that it will not be covered the press. Of course, I hope I am wrong about that.
When the news gets out that a major corporation (such as Southern California Edison) has decided to replace hundreds of perfectly good resident workers with H-1Bs, newspapers cover the event and some politicians start making appropriate noises.
But the arrivals of the H-4s in the labor market will be quite different; one by one they will get jobs all over the country quietly and slowly; that new worker in the grocery store or the new accountant or perhaps the librarian in the law firm, they will all arrive without fanfare and another three jobs will be lost to American workers, who probably will never know that a decision in Washington robbed them of these jobs, or at least postponed their getting new jobs.
There are a bunch of things wrong with the government's H-4 decision:
- It has nothing to do with the needs of the U.S. labor market; the workers are located near where their spouses work and no agency has decided (as it does with H-1B) that their skills are needed;
- There is no need for extra workers of any kind in the United States;
- The workers themselves have absolutely no labor market protections; they can be hired at any wage (at or above the minimum); and
- Oddly, these particular H-4s are — as opposed to, say, Mexican H-4s married to H2-A farm workers — a comparatively cosseted population.
On the last point one should bear two facts in mind. First, these workers, probably 90-plus percent women, are not only married to employed college graduates (all H-1Bs fit that description), but the H-1Bs are probably making in excess of $70,000 a year. I would guess that most of the H-4 women, or a large minority, have college degrees of their own.
The new program, after all, is for the spouses of the upper classes of the H-1B population, people whose value to their employer is characterized, by definition, as above average because the employer has filed a green card application for the worker.
The real (but totally hidden) beneficiaries of this program are the big corporations hiring the husbands — there is no need to give the H-1B a raise now that his wife can work, saving millions of dollars.
I understand that many of these spouses are restless being unemployed, and many of them have something to contribute to society, but shouldn't U.S. workers get first dibs on available jobs?
By the way, and this is a minor point, this is not a reciprocal-arrangement with India, from whence come most H-1Bs. An American woman who has a husband with a job in India cannot legally work there.
USCIS does not tell us where it got its 179,600 estimate of jobs to be filled in the near future by these women, or how it obtained is accompanying estimate of 55,000 new applicants each year in the future, but I suspect that both of these are understatements.
Nevertheless, it is useful that USCIS has given us some numerical estimates; it does not always do that.
As the agency says in its announcement, it will start receiving employment authorization applications from these H-4s (and the $385 fee that goes with them) on May 26.