Friday, August 26, 2016

Why Trump Has Been Right and Silicon Valley Wrong on H-1B Visas - By Jim Thornton

Silicon Valley executives and most mainstream Republicans criticize Donald Trump’s position on the current H-1B program.  Yet both political parties over the last 16 years have left the Americans with a deeply flawed program, riddled with a multitude of loopholes and favoring larger multinational and outsourcing IT firms.

H-1Bs aren't for just any prospective employee; they are reserved for specialized talent filling a specialized position. The positions must also, according to the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services), not be replacing jobs of U.S. citizens. However, if the annual salary being offered is greater than $60,000, all USCIS requirements are waived including that of replacing U.S. citizens. Where can you find a specialized PHD or Masters level skill in IT offering an annual salary of less than $60,000? Nowhere on either coast of the U.S. at any technology enclave.

Of the 85,000 annual H-1B visas issued among 10,000 applicant companies in 2014, roughly 32,000 of the H-1B visas end up being issued to 20 large companies. Within the 32,000 H-1B visas issued,16,000 were provided to several of the largest Indian U.S. outsourcing firms -- Wipro, Tech Mahindra, Infosys and TCS. The rest of the recipients are the major U.S. outsourcing and global IT companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, IBM, Google and Cognizant.  According to the Department of Homeland Security, 80% of all H-1B Visas issued in 2014 were issued to residents of India. The data, accessed through Freedom of Information Act, reveals that a lion share of visas issued for computer jobs are claimed by Indians.

There are also multitudes of ways to bring in international workers outside the H-1B visa process that are rarely divulged to the public but are commonly used by large firms who can afford to pay for the application costs. For example, according to a study by Inc. Magazine, workers who are citizens of Singapore, Chile, and Australia qualify for separate visas altogether -- visas which are not part of the H-1B cap.  And if your company is multinational, your employees might be eligible for an L-1 Intracompany Transferee Visa. The employee must be managerial or have specialized knowledge, and he or she has to have already worked in a foreign branch of the company. An employee might also be eligible for an E Visa, if the company is making a foreign investment in the country of the employee's nationality. Finally, there are J-1 and H-3 visas, which pertain to employee training. If your employees are eligible for any of these, there will be no need for them to endure the stresses of the overall H-1B process. 275,000 H-1B visas were issued in 2015 that included both new and renewal applications. Of those only 14% were issued to small businesses. This is primarily due to the cost and complexity of navigating the programs.

Today, we hear Silicon Valley and large multinational firms pointing to the decline of U.S. college degree holders by 30% over the past three decades, while International students with college degrees have more than doubled. This trend has its origin in the number of International students applying to U.S. public and private universities at an unprecedented rate over the past 15 years. For example, the University of Washington, has over 7,300 international students enrolled or roughly 26% of its total student population for 2014. This is quadruple the amount of international students totaling 2,400 enrolled in 2000. UC San Diego international student population is now in excess of 18% of the university population.

Mr. Trump has also used the current H-1B program to his advantage at his properties in Florida. The H-1B’s issued to the Trump properties were for non-technical service jobs, not for specialized critical technology development by specialized talent as many current program supporters would advocate. Mr. Trump has rightly pointed out that he possessed the right legal and financial resources to obtain the H-1B visa.

We have over 185 different visa programs. It’s time to reform the entire process and create programs to the advantage of Americans.

Jim Thornton is Managing Partner, Kamuela Partners, Issaquah, Washington