Over the past decade, the IEEE-USA has worked diligently to have Congress reduce, or remove, the H-1B work visa, and replace it with more EB type visas. While it may appear that both represent the import of more foreign workers into the United States, significant differences exist between the two.
The H-1B visa is intended as a short-term solution to a technical specialist shortage in the United States. The visa is for a three-year period, which can be extended up to six years in total. Also, a major difference is that the H-1B visa belongs to the corporation, not the individual, thus the power of employment remains with the corporation for hiring, firing, wages, etc., and the individual cannot work for another company (with some legal maneuvering through contract type employers, who hold the visa, and contract the services of the individual, covered by the visa in a contract arrangement.)
In the case of the EB visa, commonly referred to as the “green card,” it belongs to the individual to whom it is issued, not the employer. It is, in essence, an application for immigration, with the major number of visa holders eventually applying for citizenship within five years. With EB visas, the individual is free to seek new employment, ask for higher wages, and act as any other employee may act to better their positions. They may even start a new business, if that is their interest.
Looking over the information, one may conclude, “so what.” But over the past decade, more than a half million H-1B visas have been issued to foreign workers. A bill in Congress, if passed, would increase this total to 300,000 H-1B visas per year. Where U.S. colleges only graduate approximately 40,000 engineers each year and industry generates approximate 50,000 new jobs, where are all the H-1B visa holders going to be working? That question should be of concern to you.
With a reported unemployment rate of six to seven percent for technology-oriented jobs, the high number of H-1B visas should be of major concern. With the limited timeframe of the H-1B visa, will we see movement of technical expertise from the United States to other countries, as these short-term workers leave and return home? Will such movement continue to erode the technical abilities of U.S. corporations in research and development, manufacturing, programming, and related engineering skills? Answers to these and other similar questions cannot be found in a crystal ball, but they should be asked and answered. We should all be concerned about these important issues.
R.E. Floyd is an IEEE Life Senior Member.