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Beryl Lieff Benderly

Is the H-1B Good for America?

President Obama’s May 10 speech in El Paso moved immigration reform back into the political spotlight, and with it the perennial debate about the H-1B visa, which is heavily used both in academe to recruit postdocs and in the IT industry to import workers and for outsourcing. Though many argue that admitting technically trained foreigners on temporary work permits benefits the United States, Ron Hira, associate professor of public policy at Rochester Institute of Technology, says that just the opposite is true. “Instead of providing foreign workers who complement the American workforce, employers are bringing in workers who substitute for Americans,” he told the Economic Times, a leading Indian publication.  

Echoing remarks he made in March 31 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement, Hira said, “It is wrong to equate the profits of U.S.-based companies with America’s national interest.” In the Economic Times interview he also quoted former U.S. Rep. Bruce Morrison (D-CT), one of the creators of the H-1B, as saying “If I knew in 1990 what I know today about the use of [the H-1B] for outsourcing, I wouldn’t have drafted it so that staffing companies of that sort could have used it.”
Incidentally, I happened to hear about Hira’s comments from an American engineer with many years of experience who was recently laid off from his long-term job. “Profits are at record levels,” Hira noted in the interview, “but the labour market is still not creating enough jobs.”