A telling San José Mercury News story pits high-tech industry leaders against the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and its director, Francis Cissna.
According to the article, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Salesforce chairman and co-CEO Marc Benioff are among the many tech industry executives pushing back against the Trump administration’s efforts to tighten H-1B visa regulations and possibly cut their aggregate annual number.
The visa allows U.S. companies to hire foreign nationals, and in the process denies job opportunities to Americans or displaces existing workers.
Silicon Valley wants to increase the official 85,000 H-1B cap.
True to historical norm, a week after Cissna’s speech, the Business Roundtable, a 60-member strong lobbying group, wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to express “serious concern about changes in immigration policy that are causing considerable anxiety for many thousands of our employees while threatening to disrupt company operations.”
The Business Roundtable also plugged the H-4 visa that allows H-1B visa spouses to work, a 2015 executive action provision that Congress never approved. In addition to the aforementioned Apple and Salesforce, other signatories included Cisco, IBM, JPMorgan Chase and outsourcing giant Cognizant.
Recently released federal data, however, belies the executives’ strong inference that the bottom is falling out. In 2017, Facebook received 53 percent more H-1B visas than in 2016. Google received a 31 percent boost, and Apple, a 7 percent hike. In 2017, Google spent more on immigration lobbying than any other corporation.
In his address at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Cissna stated that “all these (visa) programs” are rife with “all sorts of fraud and abuse.” People trying to “game” U.S. immigration laws is, Cissna said, an “eternal problem” for his agency.
To support his conviction that U.S. immigration is too easily manipulated, Cissna offered this hypothetical example. An individual comes to the United States as a tourist, then he changes status to student and studies for four years. Next, he gets a master’s degree, then changes status again to H-1B, stays for three more years with an automatic three-year extension. Finally, he can qualify for Optional Practical Training, and remain three more years.
In all, Cissna noted, a foreign national arrives as a tourist, on a temporary nonimmigrant visa, but remains for up to a dozen years without ever having been interviewed by an immigration official.
“Not prudent,” he said.
Cissna’s solution is unthinkable to employers who have come to rely on not only the H-1B, but also the H-2A agricultural, the H-2B nonagricultural and myriad other employment-based visas.
“I would really love it if Congress would just pass a one-sentence provision that would just prohibit American workers being replaced by H-1B workers,” he said.
The multibillion-dollar corporations that rely on H-1Bs — trillion-dollar in Apple’s case — and their billionaire executives who profit from cheap labor would rue the day that their pipeline to low-cost workers was cut off.
But millions of unemployed and under-employed Americans would breathe a sigh of relief and ask what took so long.
— Joe Guzzardi is an analyst and researcher with Progressives for Immigration Reform who now lives in Pittsburgh. He can be reached at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter: @joeguzzardi19. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.