Three Pieces of Good News on the Foreign Worker Front

By David North on October 29, 2020

Three — count them, three — different pieces of good news regarding foreign workers and a potential visa mill have arrived in the last 24 hours.

  1. The best news is that the Department of Homeland Security is proposing to drop its lottery of H-1B slots, and replace it with a de facto auction, thus running up the costs of the program to — one hopes — the extent that it will create jobs for American workers. 
  2. The Washington Post exposed how the H-1B program, in addition to favoring young Indian males, is replete with caste prejudice, imported from overseas.
  3. USA Today ran a long story about how a feeble accrediting agency, long known to be overly friendly to visa mills, accredited a "university" in South Dakota that Wikipedia says "does not exist".

DHS Proposed H-1B Rule

DHS announced last night the proposed replacement of the current lottery of the H-1B slots that allows employers to secure both ill-paid and well-paid H-1B slots with what looks like an auction system that will distribute the H-1B permissions to the employers who offer the best salaries to their potential workers.

The announcement sought to explain it this way:

Modifying the H-1B cap selection process by replacing the random selection process with a wage-level-based selection process is a better way to allocate H-1Bs when demand exceeds supply. If finalized as proposed, this new selection process would incentivize employers to offer higher wages or petition for positions requiring higher skills and higher-skilled workers instead of using the program to fill relatively lower-paid vacancies.

As background, currently there are ceilings of 65,000 and 20,000 for new H-1B positions each year, with the former cap for those with bachelors' degrees or more, and the latter one for aliens with advanced degrees. Routinely, in recent years, more applications arrived than slots available, so DHS ran a lottery to determine how many slots were allocated to would-be employers. Often there were about three petitions for each H-1B opportunity.

The H-1B program has been criticized for years, not only because it allows (even encourages) employers to hire foreign workers rather than American (citizen and green card) ones, it has a wage-setting system that lets employers hire foreign (mostly Indian and Chinese) workers at rates that lower wages generally in the industries where they work.

Yesterday's announcement by DHS on the wage auction is not to be confused (though they both trod similar paths) with an earlier announcement by the Department of Labor that, in effect, set minimum wages for the various jobs covered by the H-1B program.

My sense of DHS's 100-page proposal is not that it will create one auction, in which all the H-1B slots go to the highest bidders, but that it will create a series of smaller auctions in which the wages offered in comparison to existing wage scales will prevail, not the total wages offered. Thus a regional symphony orchestra seeking a cellist will not be in a dollar to dollar competition with, say, Microsoft's desires for some expensive IT talent.

The Labor Department's move has already been challenged in courts by the industry. The DHS auction regulation may meet a similar fate. Both proposals may be modified should Biden be elected.

But it is useful to bring these proposals into the public view, and perhaps, implementation.

Professor Ron Hira of Howard University, the country's ranking H-1B scholar, says that the new approach makes "absolute sense" for the country on the grounds that it will bring highly skilled people to the U.S., not just routine workers. He pointed out to me that the current lottery system works just fine for the big outsourcing companies. If one of them wants 3,000 new workers for routine chores, and the odds in the lottery are three to one against the employer, then the employer files for 9,000 workers, not caring which of them they actually hire.

On the other hand, the start-up that wants a particular person and files for just that person, faces two chances out of three of failure. With the proposed system, it would have the option of getting the person it wants, if it pays enough.

Caste Discrimination Exposed

On October 27, the Washington Post published a long article on the caste discrimination that Dalits (once termed "untouchables") have experienced in the U.S., notably in the high-tech industries. The general idea is that other, higher-caste Indians in the industry will not hire or promote the Dalits because of a hold-over of ancient prejudices brought here from the home country.

The reporter barely mentions the H-1B program in which most of the discrimination must be taking place, nor did she mention the over-arching role of the big Indian outsourcing companies (such as Tata and Infosys) which puts so many Indians in the position of making employment decisions, but it was useful that this problem — yet another black eye for H-1B — was given some attention.

Though the article did not say so specifically, it indicated that the H-1B program allowed many of the employers in it not only to discriminate against U.S. workers, but also — as we noted earlier — to discriminate against all but young Indian males from the south of the country. Now we can add traditional caste prejudice to all the other biases tolerated within the program.

A Potential Visa Mill in South Dakota, Again

Another newspaper, this time USA Today, has exposed another potential problem in the foreign student business: the existence of a potential visa mill, this time, again, in South Dakota, where it is all too easy to open a shady educational institution. (Visa mills major in foreign students and the work permits that they issue, rather than providing a plausible education program.)

In this case, the reporter is Chris Quintana, and the "educational" institution is (like the D.C. airport) named Reagan National University. The problem, however, is that the place does not exist; no classes, no students, and only the dean answering the phone, saying that everyone else at the place is sick.

What is significant in this case is that Reagan National is fully accredited by the American Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) and the latter gets yet another, well-deserved black eye for the laxness of its standards.

What is odd is that the story of Reagan National is almost exactly like that of the University of Northern Virginia, which, after being put out of business by Virginia state authorities, sought to start up again in South Dakota, only to be exposed by an AP reporter we worked with at the time.

Summer Work/Travel

In a subsequent posting we will describe a fourth piece of good news: a book-length report, written by a Russian, exposing how Russian agents, indirectly authorized by our own State Department, have exploited Russian youth on their way to jobs in the controversial Summer Work Travel program in the U.S.