We Shouldn’t Use H1-B Visas a Political Weapon

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H1-B visas

Over the last few years, the controversy over foreign labor, skill shortages and visas has reached a fevered pitch. Finally, in April, President Trump issued an executive order designed to reform America’s H-1B visa program. The goal? Reduce American reliance on skilled foreign labor.

While the H1-B program should be examined closely—there have been some notable abuses, particularly the use of cheap foreign labor to replace American jobs—the vast majority of H1-Bs have benefited the United States. They have helped build a world-class tech industry and have bolstered many other American companies that face serious talent and skill gaps, particularly in crucial areas like science, computing and engineering.

A hard-line, protectionist approach will create more problems than it will solve. A recent survey from global professional recruitment and IT outsourcing firm Harvey Nash illuminates the position of executives. It found that 61 percent of U.S. IT leaders with large development teams believe the proposed changes will make skilled IT talent less available; 68 percent of companies with 50 or more developers believe reforms will increase the cost to hire skilled IT talent; and 59 percent of companies with 50 or more developers will consider offshore options.

The last statistic is something to ponder. Too often, laws, regulations and policies have unintended consequences.

The result should not be to inhibit or hamstring industry. It should be to find the right balance between tapping foreign talent and maximizing opportunities for American citizens. There will always be some abuse—no system is perfect, after all—but halting or severely curtailing the flow of talent isn’t the answer.

According to other research conducted by Joint Ventures, Silicon Valley’s foreign born population is about 37.4 percent, compared to California’s 27.1 percent and the overall U.S. figure of 13.3 percent. Flip back through history, and it becomes immediately apparent that many of America’s greatest inventions and developments have been fueled by immigrants, including Nikola Tesla, Alexander Graham Bell and Albert Einstein.

Should we modernize the U.S. immigration system? Yes. Find ways to stamp out abuse? Absolutely. However, taking draconian measures to block immigrants on H1-B visas is counterproductive. The benefits of immigration far outweigh the costs. It already has made American great.