AILA Responds to Baseless Attack on H-1B and L-1 Visas

The economic recession has only exacerbated the scapegoating of immigrants and the baseless attacks on two of the most valuable nonimmigrant visa programs – the H-1B and L-1.  AILA’s National Office recently received a letter from Professor Ray Marshall attacking H-1B and L-1 visas.  The Professor’s letter was in response to AILA’s statement critical of the AFL- endorsed Ray Marshall “plan” regarding immigration reform. This “plan” supported the destructive Grassley-Durbin anti-H-1B legislation. AILA was critical of this plan because AILA alleged that it was without merit and betrayed a lack of understanding about the immigration system.  

A key part of Mr. Marshall’s letter reads as follows:

“Although we have grossly inadequate data about the H-1B and L-1 Visa programs, the data we do have clearly support the conclusion that these programs are used to displace U.S. workers and suppress their wages. Moreover, little or nothing is done to to ensure that these visas are used to import workers to fill real labor shortages–which, unlike the current system, would indeed strengthen the competitiveness of the American economy and promote broadly shared prosperity. Indeed, we have no reliable information about how many workers there are (estimates vary between 600,000 and 800,000), where and under what conditions they are employed, or how their numbers relate to total employment in the occupations where they are employed. These programs also do not have adequate safeguards to protect domestic or the foreign indentured workers from abuses. The recommendations in Immigration for Share Prosperity: A Framework for Comprehensive Reform are designed to address these defects. In addition to the provisions of the Durbin-Grassley bill, we need realistic, objective prevailing wage standards that will prevent these programs from being used to suppress the wages of American workers. Supporters often argue that the H-1B program is needed to attract the “best and the brightest” foreign workers, but the evidence shows that most of the foreign workers are hired for entry-level positions for which there do not appear to be shortages of qualified American workers. The H-1B and L-1 programs clearly need much better data and transparency to enable more effective evaluations of their impacts.

It also is hard to see why a regular job, which most of those held by H-1Bs appear to be, should be held by “temporary” visa holders indentured for 3, 6, or even 10 years. If there are validated shortages of workers for regular jobs that cannot be filled at market wages with qualified U.S. residents, it would be better to fill them with immigrants with full legal rights, including the right to earn citizenship.” (emphasis added).

It is shocking to read this level of ignorance about how the H-1B and L-1 visas actually work.  The Professor even acknowledges that he has no evidence to support his stance. 

AILA responded to the letter, of which a key part reads: 
“For starters, the H-1B status and its predecessor H-1 status have been a valuable part of our immigration system for almost 60 years, and the L-1 status for almost 40. And you might be surprised to learn that most economists who have studied these provisions disagree with you that H-1B professionals are hurting the American economy and the American worker. Rather, the vast majority of economists and business leaders who have looked at this issue, including Alan Greenspan, Jagdish Bhagwati, Nobel prize winning economist Gary Becker, Jack Welch, Michael Bloomberg, and Bill Gates are convinced that H-1B professionals (they’re not “guest workers” and they’re hardly “indentured” as you refer to them) have increased employment opportunities for all Americans, and their creativity and knowledge have furthered our national interest.

Here are additional points not mentioned in you letter that are worth noting. H-1Bs are designed for professionals, not for low level unskilled workers. Professor Richard Florida recently reported, [F]or management and business occupations – including hard-fit financial jobs – overall the unemployment rate is 4.0 percent; and for professional and technical occupations, it remains less than four percent (3.6 percent). . . .

Of grave concern is that three times in your letter you say you really do not have data to back up your conclusions. More importantly, the studies you cite to have not been peer reviewed and have not been subject to critical analysis. Surely you are aware as an academic that without reliable data, it’s rash and unfounded for you to condemn the entire H-1B program, particularly when the benefits of the H-1B status are so strong. These benefits are not just intangibly based on opinion. Peer-reviewed studies, such as those conducted by Vivek Wadhwa, Executive in Residence, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University, support the conclusion that the H-1B visa programs are good for America.

A couple of other important points you failed to note: H-1B professionals aren’t just computer scientists. They are also physicists, mathematicians, financial analysts, lawyers, economists, teachers, physicians serving in health professional shortage areas, and, like you, professors at virtually all American colleges and universities. Most of these H-1Bs aren’t recent arrivals. They are products of our finest universities, including your University of Texas.”

It is important that we continue to rebut these xenophobic, unfounded and deleterious attempts to stymie legal immigration to the US.