Thursday, November 15 , 2018, 4:28 pm | Fair 67º


Joe Guzzardi: Outside the Beltway, No One Cares about Russia

Zero attention has been given to developments in the White House that could help American workers, what with the media’s obsession on an alleged connection between President Donald Trump and Russia, his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and former FBI director James Comey’s testimony.

Russia, climate change and FBI rumors consume Capitol Hill insiders; outside the Beltway, people want Trump to make good on his commitment to “Buy American, Hire American.” Across the nation, the order of the day is jobs, not D.C. gossip and fake news.

Among the most frustrating employment roadblocks are the multiple nonimmigrant visas, most notably the H-1B that either keeps Americans from getting jobs or results in their displacement from jobs they already hold.

Over the last two years, several headline cases brought H-1B visa abuse into the spotlight. Disney’s firing of about 250 Americans, and its replacement of them with foreign-born visa holders, stands out as the most egregious case, and was the focus of a 60 Minutes segment titled “You’re Fired.”

Often, H-1B applications are fraud-ridden, which adds another level of despair for suddenly unemployed Americans. But, in a positive development, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote to the Homeland Security Department to ask what measures, if any, it proposed to take to eliminate H-1B employer misuse.

The DHS response to Grassley is heartening. Last month, DHS advised that it had begun an investigation into not only Disney’s procedures, but also those at UC San Francisco and Northeast Utilities where the government suspects malfeasance.

In FY 2016, DHS conducted more than 10,000 site visits to determine whether H-1B visa-dependent companies are satisfying their legal obligation to make a good faith effort to recruit U.S. workers. Every year, the labor pool absorbs more than 100,000 H-1B visa holders.

For more than two decades, employers have insisted, without offering proof, that not enough qualified Americans are available to fill the tech industry’s job openings. But two Harvard University economists have a more accurate opinion of why employers are so addicted to the H-1B.

Lawrence F. Katz said companies like the H-1B program because it expands the pool of applicants that in turn means lower wages and, since they sponsor the workers’ visas, greater control over their employees.

The “two big winners,” as Katz identified them, are the workers who come to the United States with H-1B visas and companies that employ them. Katz’s Harvard colleague, Michael S. Teitelbaum, said that, for the industry claiming shortages, it works politically because honesty — more H-1B visas increases corporate profits — wouldn’t.

Trump’s executive order correctly identified the H-1B problem, which he called “widespread abuse in our immigration system” that leads to Americans being fired and replaced by cheaper laborers.

But executive orders and investigations are meaningless unless they result in American worker protections. President Barack Obama’s administration also conducted an H-1B investigation against Southern California Edison, which fired 500 Americans, then forced them to train their replacements. But the Labor Department found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Advocates for overdue H-1B reforms hope that the outcome of investigations under Trump will be different.

— Joe Guzzardi is a senior writing fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) who now lives in Pittsburgh. He can be reached at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter: @joeguzzardi19. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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