H-1B Program Attacked in Unbalanced Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing

February 26, 2016

The H-1B guest visa program for highly skilled workers came under fire this week at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with concerns expressed by Senators from both parties about alleged abuses of the program by companies.  Of the six witnesses, four argued against H-1B visas, and the Senators present, including Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), were similarly opposed to the visa program.  It was argued that employers are using the visas to hire foreign workers to supplant and replace American workers.  Professor Hal Salzman of Rutgers University categorized the H-1B visa as being emblematic of policies "that deny U.S. workers–whether native or immigrant, whether citizen or permanent resident—the career and compensation their education and skills should bring them if not for the huge, congressionally-created labor pool of guest workers that industry has available to staff the vast majority of new IT openings."  At odds with the prevailing sentiment in the room, Professor Chad Sparber of Colgate University noted the view that is generally held by companies competing for scarce skills: "A tremendous amount of economics literature has found that, on average, highly educated immigrants increase American wages, employment, and productivity."  Meanwhile, Representatives Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Doug Collins (R-GA) this week sponsored a bill intended to hamper the H-1B program.  These actions took place amid shrinking support for the visa program in the Republican presidential candidate field.  Donald Trump has been vocal on the campaign trail about his opposition to the H-1B program, going so far as to mock Senator Rubio for supporting tripling the number of H-1B visas.  Senator Cruz, who supported expanding the H-1B program as recently as 2013, has spoken out against the visas on the campaign trail, and last year introduced the American Jobs First Act of 2015, which would make hiring guest workers significantly more costly for employers.  The HR Policy Association joins the rest of the business community in recognizing the value of highly skilled immigration to the U.S. workforce and strongly supports expansion of the H-1B program.