In the summer of 2012, President Barack Obama infuriated small business owners by declaring during a campaign rally that “if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.”
His full comments reflected the broader theme of his stump speech that the government paved the way for businesses to become successful. Even so, it struck a nerve with small business owners who felt that the president was dismissing the hard work required to build a business.
His vice president, Joe Biden, just had his own “you didn’t build that” moment. In a digital town hall with NBC News, the Democratic nominee forcefully rebuked President Trump’s recent executive order blocking new arrivals of certain categories of guestworkers. Biden then said that “the people coming on these [H-1B] visas have built this country.”
The H-1B program allows employers to hire foreign guestworkers in technical and skilled roles. Congress capped the program at 85,000 visas a year, 20,000 of which must go to people who hold advanced degrees. Recently, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) estimated that there are over 600,000 H-1B holders currently in the United States, but some immigration experts suspect the actual number is significantly higher.
Biden’s claim is interesting, to say the least. Congress created the H-1B program in 1990, decades after the United States emerged as the world’s dominant economy. There are without a doubt H-1B workers who contribute mightily to American companies.
But as a whole, they hardly “built the country” as the former vice president claims. Research indicates that most H-1B workers are not exceptionally skilled workers but rather exceedingly average white-collar workers who happen to cost less to employ than Americans in the same positions.
This type of hyperbole is unfortunately quite common. Just as illegal alien apologists claim that the country needs low-skilled illegal aliens because there are “jobs Americans won’t do,” there are those who drive the narrative that there are simply not enough Americans majoring in STEM fields to fill the jobs gap. This is simply not true. The Census Bureau found that 74 percent of people with STEM degrees did not work in a true STEM field.
There is no STEM degree shortage. Instead, Americans with these skills are looking elsewhere as corporations increasingly rely on cheaper and more compliant foreign guestworkers to fill entry-level roles. Unfortunately, this pattern and these perceptions will continue until Congress meaningfully reforms or permanently eliminates the H-1B program.