H-1B visa reform assists international students, boosts skilled American workforce

Hannah Cooper/Staff

Immigrants wishing to pursue the American dream have been dealt a great amount of uncertainty after the actions taken by the Trump administration. Students on F-1 visas, who wish to stay on and make the United States their home, are a section of aliens who have not had their fears addressed.

As a student who has repeatedly tried and failed to secure a coveted H1-B visa, I can say that the system is downright unfair to students and detrimental to the skilled American workforce. The system must be reformed in order to make the U.S an attractive destination for students pursuing their career objectives and safeguard the interests of the American middle class.

There are currently more than 1 million international students in the country pursuing different levels of education. These students chose to move to the United States to attend some of the best institutions for higher learning and research in the world. After graduation, prospects available to graduates, especially in STEM, make it lucrative to find jobs and work.

Since the F-1 student visa is a nonimmigrant visa, students wishing to stay in the U.S must transfer their legal immigration status to an immigrant visa categories. While this system sounds reasonable, it forces students to apply for one of the H1-B temporary worker visas. The H1-B visa is meant to allow employers in the country to hire highly skilled professionals to meet needs that cannot be met by the local talent pool. The number of visas allocated yearly is capped at 65,000 with an additional 20,000 for students holding a master’s degree from a U.S. institution.

Outsourcing firms misuse this system by flooding the system with visa petitions. These firms bring workers from abroad into the country on relatively low salaries with respect to the job functions they perform. Every year a lottery is forced for the allocation of the H1-B visas that gives no preference to local firms trying to hire specific skilled talent. U.S. firms seeking to employ a skilled student or a specific resource from abroad find it extremely hard to do so. As a student with a bachelor’s degree, my chances of getting a visa in the last iteration of this lottery were slim to none, with 236,000 applications.

This abuse of the system also kills competitiveness and adversely impacts skilled American workers who find themselves losing their jobs, largely because companies find it very cost effective to just replace their own workers with contracted, low-wage foreign workers. Outsourcing firms apply for visas in bulk, hoping to break the lottery so that a certain percent of their applicants win, unlike local firms that specifically want to sponsor workers for their own attributes.

A Silicon Valley firm trying to hire a specific expert from abroad has a very low chance of being able to actually secure a work visa, whereas an outsourcing firm selects a large number of generic employees for sponsorship, so that a certain percent will be selected because of the way the lottery works, and those selected are sent here to the United States to serve as contractors.

As an international student that graduated from the electrical engineering and computer science program at UC Berkeley and currently works in payment security, I have seen the misuse of the system firsthand. Several of my talented friends have had to relocate abroad because they have been unable to win the lottery. This extremely cruel scenario forces them to uproot their entire lives and start over again, despite having strong cultural ties to the U.S and paying taxes.

From an employer’s viewpoint, this also means losing a valuable resource trained to perform a specific job. It reduces the lucrativeness of hiring international students because it is more likely that they will be lost or will need to be transferred to a foreign office.  

The “Highly Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act 2017” proposed by Rep. Lofgren specifically aims to curb the H1-B visa abuse by outsourcing and to raise the wage requirements for H1-B-dependent firms. This would allow U.S. firms to hire skilled foreign workers without having to play the lottery to win. The skilled American workforce would not be unfairly priced out of competitiveness in the job market.

It removes the per-country quota on immigrant visas that would streamline the merit-based process for allowing legal immigration into the country. The higher wage requirements for the outsourcing firms would end their gaming of the system. International students would benefit because it makes it more lucrative for employers to hire them and makes it easier for them to achieve their goal of the American dream.

This April will be my third and final attempt at obtaining an H1-B visa and I fear it will be too late for me. Barring a tremendous stroke of luck, I will be forced to relocate and start my life from scratch. I wish for system wide reform so that others do not have to suffer the same agony that my peers and I have had to go through.

I hope that the elected representatives of this country work in the best interests of their people and country in order to pass this legislation. The U.S risks losing its attractiveness to international students, resulting in the loss of highly prized talent that would seek to go elsewhere. Had I known how the system is set up to hurt international students, I would have certainly pursued my education elsewhere.

The competitiveness of American firms and the livelihood of the skilled middle class is at stake here. I feel that this is an issue that both conservatives and liberals have a common interest in resolving. The abuse of the H1-B system has gone on for too long and needs to be fixed.  

Manish Raje is a UC Berkeley alumnus. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.