Green Cards, Not H-1B Visas, are Better for High-Skill Workers, U.S. Economy
Comprehensive immigration reform is a hot topic on Capitol Hill and around the
country. While the focus is on amnesty and border security, the high-skill
component most interests IEEE-USA.
Volunteers, staff and representatives of the Washington, D.C.-based organization
have been visiting the Capitol nearly as much as school children on spring
break. IEEE-USA’s goal is to convince Congress not to expand a badly flawed H-1B
temporary visa program, but rather increase the number of employment-based (EB)
green cards for high-tech workers.
“We at IEEE-USA very much believe the emphasis
should be on green cards,” testified IEEE-USA
consultant Bruce Morrison on 5 March before the
House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on
Immigration and Border Security.
Morrison, testifying during the hearing,
“Enhancing American Competitiveness through
Skilled Immigration,” chaired the subcommittee
when the Immigration Act of 1990 became law and
created the H-1B program.
(You can view the hearing at
It begins at about the 20:30 mark. For
Morrison’s written testimony, see
The H-1B non-immigrant visa category provides
skilled foreign workers such as scientists,
technologists, engineers and mathematicians — as
well as teachers, lifeguards, hospital workers
and fashion models, among others
opportunity to work in the United States for up
to six years.
Morrison, a former Democratic representative
from Connecticut who holds two degrees in
chemistry, is regarded as one of the nation’s
foremost experts on high-skill immigration. He
and his colleagues did not foresee the H-1B
program being used to hurt American citizens.
H-1B workers’ visas are held by the company,
thus making it extremely difficult for these
individuals to leave for a better job. Plus,
they cannot start their own companies. Green
cards holders, by contrast, hold their own
visas, are free agents in the market place and
can create their own companies. Successful
businesses employ Americans in the United
“We represent the people who are the innovative
workers in this sector,” Morrison said. “We
represent people who are born in America and
people who are foreign-born and who have become
Americans. So we are very much sensitive to the
challenges that American workers face, but also
the opportunities that America has in terms of
accepting skilled immigrants” … “to join our
H-1B employees working in engineering and
IT-related fields are often paid salaries well
below prevailing wages for their occupation and
region of the country. This reduces job
opportunities for Americans who cannot support
themselves and their families on below-market
According to IEEE-USA Senior Legislative
Representative Russ Harrison, it also places
H-1B workers in a dangerously
“Because the visa belongs to their boss,
employees can’t stay in this country unless
their boss lets them. And this permission can be
revoked at any time,” Harrison said. “Employers
can withdraw an H-1B visa from any employee
whenever they want, and there’s no appeal or
recourse for the employee. This power, even if
never exercised, can be used to suppress wages,
curtail benefits or win any number of other
concessions from employees. American workers
have the option of accepting this or being
“The really said thing is that it’s almost
always legal for companies to hire H-1B workers
instead of Americans.”
Another way H-1B employees’ wages — and by
extension American salaries — are tamped down is
in how they are categorized by employers.
“The GAO found H-1B employers characterize or
categorize over half of their H-1B workers as
entry level, which is defined as performing
routine tasks that require limited, if any,
exercise in judgment,” Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.),
chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration and
Border Security, said in his opening remarks at
the 5 March hearing.
“And only 6 percent is fully
Gowdy said the prevailing wage
for an H-1B worker employed as an entry-level
electrical engineer in his home district of
Greenville, S.C., is $55,890. For a “fully
competent” EE on an H-1B, it’s $88,920.
“Are experienced Americans losing out?” Gowdy asked.
H-1B Visas Promote Outsourcing of U.S. Jobs
Americans definitely lose out when their once high-paying, benefit-laden jobs
are sent to lower labor-cost nations. While industry tells us that a larger
supply of H-1B visas contributes to the health of the U.S. economy, statistics
do not bear that out.
Computerworld magazine found that the top 10 users of H-1B visas in FY 2012
and 15 of the top 20 — were companies who specialize in replacing American
workers in the United States, as well as outsourcing American jobs offshore.
“The data shows: Top H-1B users are offshore outsourcers,” Computerworld
found that, “Based on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data
analyzed, the major beneficiaries of the proposed increase in the [H-1B] cap
would be pure offshore outsourcing firms.”
“Congress should pass laws that create U.S. jobs, not destroy them,” IEEE-USA
President Marc Apter said
in a 29 March IEEE-USA news release.
Data published by the Department of Labor in March showed that
— once again
— the top 10 companies applying for H-1B visas in the first three months of FY
2013 continued to be offshore outsourcers.
These 10 organizations collectively had 112,739 positions
— representing 73.4
percent more than the base annual H-1B cap of 65,000 — certified to be filled by
an H-1B worker. In addition, 64.1 percent of the 175,806 certified H-1B
applications from just 1 October to 31 December 2012 went to these 10 companies.
Harrison added that another of IEEE-USA’s legislative goals is “to kick the
outsourcers out of the H-1B visa program.”
Green Cards are the Way Forward
Including unlimited exemptions to the H-1B cap, the United States issued 134,780
H-1B visas in FY 2012. Comprehensive immigration reform legislation being
debated in Congress could significantly boost that number. Those on an H-1B
hoping for a green card, which confers permanent resident status, often have to
wait up to 10 years to attain one.
“Our current green card system is hopelessly backlogged,” Morrison said. “We
need more green cards both to address the backlog and to address the future
About 120,000 EB green cards are handed out each year, but less than half go to
the skilled workers themselves. Spouses and dependent children use the rest. The
immigration reform bill would increase the number of green cards, but not by as
much as IEEE-USA would like.
“What green cards do is give those who are foreign-born an equal right and
autonomy in the economy to have full freedom, to have their market power, to
leave their job and not to be required to be in any way beholden to a particular
employer,” Morrison said. “That works for both the American worker and the
“That is the way to have a level playing field.”
Chris McManes is IEEE-USA’s public relations manager.
Comments may be submitted to