H1-B Visa Program

In case you have not heard of it, the H1-B program is a specialty occupation visa. The number of visas issued each year is subject to an annual quota set by congress. Normally this quota is 65,000 visas per year. There are some exemptions to the quotas for universities, nonprofit organizations, and government research labs.

The idea behind the H1-B program seems to have some merit. We have some voids in the commercial sector that the educated foreign labor market can fill. You then provide a special vehicle for these individuals to come work in the United States. As with most things, this gets complicated real quick when you consider its effect on US workers.

To provide some recent history, here are the quota limits set by Congress during the last 10 years or so:

1998 quota 115,000
2000 quota 195,000
2004 quota 90,000
2006 quota 65,000

The problem with the H1-B program is when the high tech job market gets soft. The additional H1-B visas provide extra competition for the scarce positions. The result is wage depression. In theory, employers are supposed to pay prevailing wages to H1-B visa holders. But you can see where the advantage is all with the employer of a visa holder.

This topic obviously requires additional discussion. It is difficult to think objectively when you are worried about your job being outsourced to a foreigner here with a visa. Likewise it is no fun when you are out priced by somebody who is bound by a visa which allows continued employment in the country. In general, I am in favor of letting the free market decide wages and unemployment. But this issue hits too close to home. And I contemplate whether visa restrictions can be justified to stabilize my job prospects.