February 7, 2017

Decoding H-1B visas

Who benefits from this contentious US immigration programme?

The H-1B visa is perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of US immigration. The visas are part of the Immigration Act of 1990 and permit US-based companies to quickly hire highly skilled foreign workers. At the time the law was crafted those visas were intended for doctors, engineers and computer scientists. Currently 85,000 visas are awarded annually under a lottery system. However, critics claim they take jobs away from US workers and it’s in need of reform.


Opponents of the H-1B point to a legal loophole in the law as the reason for the loss of jobs. An amendment added to the law in 1998 allows companies to ignore requirements protecting American jobs, as long as they pay foreign workers at least $60,000 a year or hire a foreign worker with a master’s degree. Proponents though, like technology companies, argue the programme allows them to hire the best workers. They claim those abusing the system are outsourcing firms who flood the lottery system with applications.


The loss of jobs by US workers isn’t the only fallout of the H1B programme. Employers hold incredible leverage over foreign workers because the visas are tied to the company they work for. So in other words, you lose your job, you lose your visa. Some employees have said they fear retribution for speaking out about their working conditions. 


Now members of Congress are demanding reform. Several politicians, on both sides of the aisle, have drafted legislation to close loopholes in the law. We hear from lawmakers, companies and visa holders at the center of this debate. 


On this epsiode of The Stream, we speak with:


Bruce Morrison
Former Congressman, Chairman of the Morrison Public Affairs Group

Aman Kapoor @immivoice
President, Immigration Voice

John Miano @wwwCISorg
Fellow, The Center for Immigration Studies

Debarghya Das @debarghya_das
Software engineer, Google

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.