Unfilled Positions Reduce Productivity
Reform H-1B, but don't ignore legitimate needs of American employers
December 28, 2011
Yes--The H-1B visa should be made easier to get, but it should also be reformed so that American workers are protected and our country is able to attract the types of employees we need to grow our economy.
The H-1B visa was originally designed to allow U.S. companies to bring computer programmers to the United States to fill positions that were vacant due to a shortage of qualified workers. Over time, creative immigration lawyers have "pushed the law" and expanded the types of workers coming to the United States. H-1B visas have been used by everyone from acupuncturists and accountants to pharmacists, teachers, and Web designers. Some of this is good for our economy and domestic work force; some of it is not so good.
As the system exists now, a foreign worker who demonstrates that her profession is a "specialty occupation" may qualify for an H-1B visa (assuming she meets the other requirements for the visa, including requirements designed to prevent wage deflation). The problem is that our country does not necessarily need workers who meet the definition of a "specialty occupation." Rather, we need workers for jobs that American employers are unable to fill.
To address this problem, the Department of Labor should identify where shortages exist, and the qualifications for an H-1B visa should be adjusted accordingly. So, for example, perhaps we do not have a shortage of acupuncturists in the United States. If that is the case, acupuncturists should not be permitted to obtain H-1B visas. On the other hand, there are significant shortages of technology workers and healthcare workers (among others). As long as these shortages exist, we need to make it easier for companies to hire foreign workers in these fields. Unfilled positions reduce productivity and serve as a drag on our economy.
The qualifications for an H-1B visa should be determined by the needs of our economy—we need more entrepreneurs, more scientists, more mathematicians, more programmers. Our country and our economy would be well served if such people could easily come to the United States. The H-1B visa program should not be a hurdle for these workers to overcome. Instead, it should be designed to attract and retain needed workers.