February 7, 2013
The Honorable Amy Klobuchar
United States Senate
302 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Re: Immigration Innovation (I2) Act of 2013
Dear Senator Klobuchar:
On behalf of the 21 national and international unions in the Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO (DPE), I am deeply troubled that you have co-sponsored the I2 legislation. This legislation, if passed, will have a devastating impact on America’s high-tech workforce. I urge you to reconsider your co-sponsorship of this anti-worker legislation.
The H-1B visa is bad public policy and the I2 legislation would only make it worse. DPE has identified some of the most glaring problems with our current high-skilled guest worker visas and proposes a solution. First, employers do not have to show that there is a shortage of workers before receiving an H-1B visa. This results in the displacement of U.S. workers. Second, there is no evidence of a labor shortage now or in the future that justifies even the present number of available H-1B visas. Third, the H-1B visa is not used to employ the best and the brightest minds in the world. Fourth, there is ample supply of new U.S. graduates and unemployed workers to meet new demand. Finally, our immigration system must be reformed, and those reforms must include the ability of businesses to hire guest workers, but I2 is clearly not the answer.
First, employers do not have to show that there is a labor shortage before receiving an H-1B visa. The H-1B visa was intended to bring highly skilled foreign workers to the U.S. to fill positions that could not be filled by domestic workers. This is not how the program is being used. For example, according to the Current Population Survey, in December 2012, computer-related occupations had a four percent unemployment rate. Yet, in fiscal year 2012, nearly 200,000 H-1B visas were issued to employ guest workers in computer-related occupations. A particular occupation, say computer programmer, should be at full employment before guest workers can be hired.
Second, claims of high-tech worker shortages are unfounded. In December 2012, the unemployment rate for all computer-related occupations was four percent. Computer-related occupations are considered to be at full-employment when the unemployment rate is closer to two percent.
Evidence of a worker shortage could also be found in rising wages. However, from 2000 to 2011, the average hourly wage for workers possessing at least a Bachelor’s degree in computer and math occupations rose less than half a percent a year. The high-tech industry is no stranger to claims of labor shortages. The high-tech industry claimed there was a labor shortage in the 1980’s and 90’s, but these claims were based on the monitoring of job openings rather than economic indicators. This methodology was criticized by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, but business continues to use it to bolster its claims of labor shortages.
Third, the H-1B visa is not used to employ the “best and the brightest.” H-1B visas are used by most employers to hire young, cheap workers. In 2011, 75 percent of H-1B beneficiaries were under 34 years old. In 2010, 54 percent of the H-1B visas were used to fill entry-level positions, requiring a “basic understanding of duties and performing routine tasks requiring limited judgment.” Only six percent of H-1B visa beneficiaries were compensated at the top pay grade. Wages actually start as low as $12 per hour. There is no evidence that H-1B workers were among the best and the brightest or that there were an insufficient number of U.S. workers to fill the positions.
It bears mentioning that in 2011, nearly 60 percent of H-1B beneficiaries were born in India and the vast majority of them are employed by businesses headquartered in India. Indian businesses developed a business model that exploits the U.S. visa system and it is based on cheap Indian labor. This is possible because the only requirement for obtaining an H-1B visa is that the beneficiary holds a Bachelor’s degree. If a guest worker graduates last in her class, she can be hired on an H-1B visa.
Fourth, there is ample supply of U.S. citizens and permanent residents graduating with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In 2010, over 500,000 U.S. citizens and permanent residents graduated from college and graduate school in a STEM field and they are struggling to find work. In 2010, approximately 40 percent of new engineering graduates could not find jobs in engineering. Yet, 20,000 H-1B visas were approved for engineers in 2010. When the lucky graduates find a job in their field, they find that wages are flat. It simply makes no economic sense to add over 300,000 new temporary workers annually, as proposed in your legislation, without first determining that there is an actual need for that additional labor.
In conclusion, the evidence of our broken skilled-immigration system is overwhelming. The legislation you have co-sponsored does nothing to fix the problem and actually makes it worse. Our high-skilled guest worker visa programs are clearly broken and must be reformed. The current system is easily manipulated by employers, which harms workers across industries and national boundaries. However, the skilled guest worker system can be fixed and a framework already exists to fix it. The labor movement supports the creation of an independent commission that would create a fair system and ensure that all workers, foreign and domestic, receive protection from employer abuses.
The current employment-based immigration system is a product of political compromises that disregard real labor market needs and is rarely updated to reflect changing conditions. The system for allocating employment visas ─ both temporary and permanent ─ should be de-politicized and placed in the hands of an independent commission. The commission would be served by a professional staff of economists, demographers, statisticians, and immigration specialists. In designing the new system, and establishing the methodology to be used for assessing labor shortages, the commission would be required to examine the impact of immigration on the economy, wages, workforce, and business. This would ensure that guest workers complement, rather than displace the domestic workforce.
For more information about these issues, see the Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO website, www.dpeaflcio.org.
Enclosed are a DPE Fact Sheet, Guest Worker Visas: The H-1B and L-1, and a DPE Special Report, Gaming the System: Guest Worker Visa Programs and Professional and Technical Workers in the U.S.
I would welcome an opportunity to meet with you to discuss this letter or the enclosed materials. My telephone number is 202-638-0320; my email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
With thanks for your time and consideration –
Paul E. Almeida
 Costa, Daniel, STEM Labor Shortages? Microsoft report distorts reality about computing occupations. Economic Policy Institute, November 19, 2012.
 U.S. Government Accountability Office. Information Technology Workers: Employment and Starting Salaries. Washington: GAO, 1998.
 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Characteristics of H-1B Specialty Occupation Workers, Fiscal Year 2011 Annual Report to Congress. March 12, 2012.
 U.S. Government Accountability Office. H-1B Visa Program, Reforms Are Needed to Minimize the Risks and Costs of Current Program. Washington: GAO, 2011.
 National Center for Education Statistics. Digest of Education Statistics. 2010.
 Lynn, Leonard and Hal Salzman, “Is the President Right When He Says the United States Needs 10,000 Engineers a Year? Why Not Let the Market Decide.” Manufacturing and Technology News, October 31, 2011.
 Marshall, Ray. Immigration for Shared Prosperity—A Framework for Comprehensive Reform. Washington: Economic Policy Institute, 2009.