Last month, WOOF! reviewed Sold Out: How High-Tech Billionaires and Bipartisan Beltway Crapweasels Are Screwing America’s Best and Brightest Workers, by Michelle Malkin and John Miano. The book is an in-depth analysis of the IT industry’s abuse of the H-1B visa program (and others), and the damage it has wreaked on the American workforce.
This month, we’ll go deeper into the book’s claims about visa programs used by Facebook, Microsoft, Adobe, HP, Xerox, Intel, and others.
First, let’s be clear—the visa programs ARE legal, and originally intended for positive impact. However, even if something is legal, it doesn’t prevent abuse or fraud.
Beyond the idea that defrauding the visa system to hire low-wage foreign workers instead of paying American IT salaries is unethical, the process can get so convoluted that it warrants its own discussion. From nonimmigrant visas to visas intended for investors, it’s a smorgasbord of opportunities to game the system.
1. H-1B Visa
Allows for 65,000 foreign workers per year to work in the U.S., first for 3 years, and then for another 3 if desired. Sold Out alleges that the H-1B program meant to bring in highly skilled workers actually allows companies to replace expensive U.S. workers with cheap foreign labor on weak or even fake credentials. [page 10]
2. O Visa
The O visa is for “individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement” and has no cap. This is what most people think the H-1B program was for—highly skilled workers that we can’t find enough of in the U.S. “If a prospective employee is really top talent—the kind of engineer who can truly do things others simply can’t—there isn’t much keeping the company from hiring that person under the O visa program.” [page 6] We documented this in February: The O-1 Visa—What Businesses Should Use to Bring In Top Foreign Talent (But Don't).
3. B Visitor Visa
Nonimmigrant B visas are meant for foreign visitors on short-term stays for business of 1-6 months (category B-1). Sold Out claims many offshore firms illegally use B visas for employees to spend 6 months working in the U.S. After that, the employees go overseas “on vacation,” and then renew their B visa for another 6 months. It allows the offshore company to dodge U.S. income taxes and “. . . circumvent H-1B visa limits and prevailing wage regulations.” [page 133]
4. EB-5 Visa
Known as the Cash-for-Citizenship visa. It allows 10,000 alien entrepreneurs a year to obtain green cards by investing between $500K and $1M in new enterprises or troubled businesses in the U.S. After 2 years, the investors (and their families) are awarded conditional U.S. citizenship. Since its inception in 1990, investors have abused the EB-5 visa program in every way imaginable. You have to read it to believe it. [page 149-186]
5. L-1 Visa
Created in 1970, the L-1 visa allows corporations with offices overseas to transfer employees to their U.S. office. According to Sold Out: “Along with creation of the H1-B and EB-5 programs, the Immigration Act of 1990 significantly broadened the L visa program.” “By 2003, Bloomberg News had dubbed the L visa program a ‘mainframe-size visa loophole.’” [page 190-191]
6. F-1 Student Visa
The F-1 student visa allows foreign students to attend American universities. On two conditions—students must pay tuition in full (a yearly windfall of $4.36 billion to universities), and commit to return home after graduation. However, there is no system in place to enforce their return home. Overstayer rates for F-1s are shockingly high, as most prefer to pursue opportunities in the U.S. According to Sold Out, “ . . . approximately 92% of all Chinese who received a science or technology Ph.D. in the U.S. in 2002 were still in the U.S. in 2007. This rate was well above India’s, which is in second place with 81%.” [page 206]
While more STEM graduates speaks well to America’s potential scientific strength, some worry that the sheer number of overstayers translates into fierce competition for too few U.S. jobs. A rate Sold Out estimates is 2-3 times larger than the demand. [page 42]
“In FY 2013, the State Department reported that it had issued 534,320 new F-1 visas.” [page 204]
At this point, you may wonder if you as an individual, a company, or even as a nation, can do anything about the abuse.
If you suspect or are aware of visa abuse by a company or individual, report it! Alert one of these federal departments:
Please, don’t believe your complaints will fall on the red-taped-shut ears of bureaucracy. H-1B abuse is routinely punished with heavy fines (up to $25K per incident!) and even prison terms. In 2013, Texas prosecuted Infosys, an India-based tech company, for H-1B abuse to the tune of $34 million. At the time, Infosys employed 6,298 H-1B visas. That’s just one example.
Is the system abused by unscrupulous companies looking to increase profits to shareholders? Oh yeah. But the system, while not perfect, does have its checks and balances to punish wrongdoers.
Can we build a better system? One with stricter guidelines for entry/exit visa checks? One that shares data across agencies so everyone from U.S. Customs & Border Protection to Immigration & Naturalization Services investigators have accurate information? Of course! And that’s where you come in.
If there’s an election, vote! If there’s a petition, sign it! If there’s a pending vote in Congress, contact your representative! If you want this abuse to stop, if you want U.S. jobs to remain the building blocks of the American dream, then speak up and let your voice be heard. For years, major corporations have pressured government to loosen visa laws. Together, we can pressure elected officials to reverse the damage done.
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