Senate and Judge Do Big Tech’s Bidding on H-1B Visas

Employing the legislative legerdemain of “unanimous consent” to dispense with floor hearings or debate, the U.S. Senate quickly passed an amended version of the “Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act” last week.

The action, conducted in a virtually empty Senate chamber, received scant U.S. media coverage, but the Deccan Chronicle in South India jubilantly declared that the measure will “hugely benefit hundreds of thousands of Indian professionals in America.”

The bill, which now goes back to the House for concurrence, raises country caps on H-1B visas to facilitate importation of more Indian tech workers.

Currently, some 400,000 workers from India are in line for green cards. That number would swell under the new legislation, with Indians positioned to take at least 75 percent of all H-1B visas going forward.

“Big Tech frames their support for the bill as opposition to discrimination. But the real discrimination comes from Silicon Valley’s hiring, not America’s sensible country caps,” former congressman Virgil Goode (R-Va.) wrote in The Hill. “Unlike Big Tech’s workforce, the country caps strive for diversity and prevent one nationality from dominating our immigration system.”

A day after the Senate vote, the Department of Justice (DOJ) charged Silicon Valley tech giant Facebook with discriminating against U.S. workers.

“Facebook intentionally created a hiring system in which it denied qualified U.S. workers a fair opportunity to learn about and apply for jobs that Facebook instead sought to channel to temporary visa holders Facebook wanted to sponsor for green cards,” DOJ alleged.

Whatever bias may exist, a U.S. district judge put in his two cents by blocking Trump administration efforts to reform the H-1B program.

To counter workplace abuses, the Labor Department raised prevailing wages paid for H-1B visa work and tightened skill requirements for foreigners seeking specialized jobs. But Judge Jeffrey White, a George W. Bush appointee holding court across the bay from Facebook’s Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters, slapped down the rules, saying the department didn’t spend enough time fielding corporate comments.

Amid legal wrangling and the political ping-pong game over House and Senate H-1B bills, one thing is certain: Approvals of H-1B visas have increased since Trump took office. In 2019, H-1B petitions for initial and continuing employment topped 400,000 – well above any annual total logged during the Obama administration. Nearly 70 percent of H-1B tech visas are held by workers from India.

For all their posturing about “fairness,” Congress and Judge White are aiding and abetting an exploitative system that rewards foreign nationals with jobs that Americans are equipped to do. Better policy, as Goode notes, would “insist [that]companies hire Americans before recruiting cheap labor from one part of the world. What’s the point in an American getting a STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] degree if our tech corporations won’t hire them?”

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