In today’s hostile political climate, a rational debate about immigration is almost impossible to undertake. This is an extremely unfortunate reality, as I believe the US immigration system is hopelessly broken and that such a rational debate is the only real way to fix it. Regardless of what side of the debate one lies on, I think most would agree with my bleak assessment. An immigration system that effectively allows millions to break the law without punishment is clearly not working. Either the law should be changed to accommodate people here illegally or they should be prosecuted for violating the law. Personally, I am in favor for some major changes to the permanent immigration laws, but my full position on this is beyond the scope of this blog. Going forward, I will discuss my position on a program of legal immigration – the H1B visa.
H1B visas are meant to provide authorization for temporary employment in the United States for specialty workers. In practice today, most of these workers are employed by the tech industry, with tech giants like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft being among the top users of the program. While there are certainly many issues with the program (which I will go through), I first want to note that the worst thing we could possibly do on this issue as a country is to get rid of the H1B program entirely. In the US, we have some of the best universities in the world, and these universities educate some extremely bright foreign students. Equipping such students with incredibly valuable skillsets just to kick them out seems idiotic. How could it possibly be advantageous for our country to simply train talent for our competitors? Therefore, we should either keep (and probably expand) the H1B program in some form or disallow foreign students from studying here in the first place. The second option would be devastating for academic collaboration and the exchange of ideas (and not to mention expensive for universities who rely on tuition from foreign students), so we should probably stick to the first.
That being said, the H1B visa program is far from perfect. For one, it has been exploited by companies as a means for depressing wages. Many companies have used the program to replace American workers with foreign H1B workers at lower salaries – something that is clearly not in the interests of skilled Americans. Additionally, the random nature of the H1B lottery means that many deserving candidates are skipped over for these lower-wage “replacement” workers. Replacing the lottery with some sort of Canadian-style point rating system and increasing the minimum salary for H1B recipients are probably two good places to start. I also believe that the program should be expanded by increasing the number of visas granted and making it easier for those on the visas to receive authorization for permanent (or at least long-term) residence. This would help the US regain its competitive edge by discouraging the flight of talent elsewhere and encourage a continuation of the incredible innovation that our country has seen in the past several decades.