Monday, April 17, 2006

The plight of the business immigrant

Just as the Large Nasal Appendage formerly known as Scott Johnson predicted, our Katie – Katherine Kersten to the uninitiated – did her second consecutive immigration column Monday the 17th of April. Scotty must be clairvoyant, because so often he is able to tell us what Katie will be writing about! Well, probably not clairvoyant.

Spotty can see Katie and Scott chatting endlessly on the telephone, deciding what to wear to work tomorrow, Katie’s hair, and just what is, you know, like on their minds: the rilly rilly important stuff. Puppy love, or a middle-aged, calcified version of it, anyway.

Last week, we heard about the H-2A farm worker Jaco van Rooyen. Now, it’s the plight of the H1-B Saroj Aryal. Aryal graduated from Minnesota State @ Mankato who works as a software test engineer while pursuing an MBA at night. Katie writes:
Aryal is just the sort of ambitious, high-tech professional that Minnesota needs in order to compete in the global economy. "Minneapolis has a great intellectual climate," he says. "This is where I want to put down roots."

Well of course he does! Nepal is a third-world country on the brink of civil war. Aryal is finding, of course, that the adjustment of status to that of immigrant is a long and expensive process.

In between fits of xenophobia, US immigration policy has historically seen family reunification as one of its principal goals. Business immigration has always circled in a lesser orbit, and business interests have long chafed at limitations on access to foreign labor markets. Katie asks rhetorically:
Are these foreign workers taking American jobs? No. Before hiring them, employers must document that no qualified U.S. citizen is available.

Well, the
point is debated:
Because H-1B visas are good from three to six years, the number of H-1B foreign workers in the country at any point is the sum of those who have been admitted and remained within the last six years. In 2002, there were an estimated 710,000 H-1B holders in the United States.1 Although the H-1B program is meant to provide companies with labor unavailable in this country, no evidence exists of a worker shortage; to the contrary, the market is filled with laid off, unemployed American high tech workers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that six percent of people in computer and mathematical occupations were unemployed in April 2003, or 194,000 people (a 25 percent jump from the 4.8 percent unemployment rate for the same time a year earlier). Overall high tech unemployment went from two percent in November 2001 to 5.5 percent one year later, and among computer programmers it went from 1.7 percent to 7.8 percent. The high tech industry employed ten percent fewer people in December 2002 than it did in January 2001. 4 Given the economic downturn and wider pool of available candidates, H-1B numbers should have fallen dramatically—but no such decrease has occurred.

The FAIR site linked above continues:

The temporary worker program is rife with fraud and abuse.

The INS conducted a study of 3,247 H-1B applicants who applied at an American consulate in India (Indians account for about half of all H-1B visas issued and were unable to verify the authenticity of almost 45 percent of the claims made on the petitions. Twenty-one percent of the work experience claims made to the INS were confirmed to be fraudulent.

A Department of Labor (DOL) audit found that 19 percent of H-1B workers were not even being paid the salaries promised by their employers on their labor application forms (which must be filed with the DOL in order for companies to receive permission to use H-1B workers). The audit found that employers use H-1B employees to get around prevailing wages and personnel costs and that the large-scale use of H-1B workers lowers the level of wages in the affected professions.

Now the thing is, you see, Spotty is kind of a free trade and pro-immigration dog. But he thinks the debate should be conducted on the basis of facts, not Katie’s slogans about competition and economic survival. There are more things at stake in the debate and more interests to be considered than Katie would lead you to believe. What a surprise.


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