Why you should care about H1-B visas

If you’ve heard about them, but haven’t given them much thought, I give a trench level view of why H1-B visas are bad for everyone involved (except corporate management)

Congress is trying to raise the cap on H1-B visas again. This is very bad and shows how the government is losing touch or just doesn’t care about their constituents.

What is an H1-B visa? It’s a mechanism by which a company can bring in a skilled foreign worker to fill a position that they can’t fill using an American worker. It was very popular in the tech industry during the boom of the 90s when almost 200,000 H1-B visas were granted per year. The visa lasts for 6 years. Having worked with many recipients of this visa, I can give some ground-level reasons why this bad for both US workers and foreign workers as well.

For foreign workers, they are essentially tied to a company for 6 years. If the company goes out of business, they are deported. If they are fired, they are deported. This essentially makes them indentured servants for the life of their visas. It is possible for them to switch to another company, but it requires a lot of effort on all parts and is extremely difficult. Additionally, H1-B visa holders are paid a lot less than their US counterparts. If a US citizen is being underpaid for their work, they can try to find a new job. The H1-B visa holder is not nearly so lucky.

For US workers, they have downward pressure on their salaries given that they can be replaced by H1-B visa holders. Additionally, since H1-B visa holders are tied to their companies, a company might choose to fill a position with an H1-B holder, rather than a US citizen who can quit if they are being mistreated. There are thousands upon thousands of skilled US workers who are currently unemployed. Recent years have seen the highest numbers of unemployed technology people in history and yet tech companies are pushing the government to raise the H1-B quotas. It certainly isn’t because they can’t find the workers.

Many H1-B visa holders become US citizens or make the US their home permanently. This is good for the US certainly. However, many return to their home countries with US corporate training making their home countries more competitive with the US which is not good for US companies long term.

Here’s a related article on usatoday.

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