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H-1Bs and US Workers – The Banks and The Bailout

The Associated Press ran an absolutely poorly researched piece on H-1B visas and the Banks receiving Bailout money from the Federal Government on Sunday. The article implied that as the Banks were taking bailout money they were simultaneously firing US workers and hiring cheap foreign labor. After I finished laughing out loud, I began to weep. I was stunned that a veteran reporter at the AP would be willing to draw this conclusion from the biased numbers drawn up by a group opposed to immigration in general and to H-1B visa holders specifically. The piece makes no effort to talk to an independent source, or to check the information against publicly available data.

The article notes that the banks benefiting from bailout monies “requested visas for more than 21,800 foreign workers over the past six years for positions that included senior vice presidents, corporate lawyers, junior investment analysts and human resources specialists. The average annual salary for those jobs was $90,721, nearly twice the median income for all American households.” Unfortunately, that statement simply is not true. Even more telling is this quote from the article “During the last three months of 2008, the largest banks that received taxpayer loans announced more than 100,000 layoffs. The number of foreign workers included among those laid off is unknown.”

We have to ask, once we think about this: Which banks? How is the layoff number related to this article, if we do not know how many H-1B workers were laid off, perhaps the banks laid off all the H-1B workers? Then what would be the point of the article?

Now, taken on its face, a normal person (someone who does not deal with H-1B visas all day long) would say, “That is a crime!” “We should take our bailout money back!” But this article is based on so little accurate information that it screams for a deeper examination. First, the “21,800 foreign workers” over the past five years is simply not true. This is either stated out of ignorance or with an intention to misstate the truth, The 21,800 number ACTUALLY refers to Labor Condition Applications that were filed by these banks with the Department of Labor, NOT the number of H-1B petitions filed by the Banks with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (the reporter fails to actually disclose how many and which banks in particular were included in this fanciful number).

Supposing the reporter knows how to count, then what is a Labor Condition Application? It is a precursor document to the H-1B and MUST be filed each time an H-1B visa employer has an H-1B worker who MOVES locations, CHANGES jobs, EXTENDS his visa OR files a New H-1B petition. It does NOT reflect 21,800 visas! Misleading, heh. The reality is that the number MIGHT BE closer to 6,000 H-1B visa applications over 6 years for ALL banks operating in the United States, even owned foreign banks). But, we are not given this information in the article, either because it would have supposedly been too difficult to obtain the actual number of H-1B workers approved in any given year for these banks, or because the number was perhaps unavailable. In fact, the reporter said this: “It is unclear how many foreign workers the banks actually hired; the government does not release those details.” Wrong!

Ten minutes. That is the amount of time it took to get this information. All this reporter had to do was Google “top H-1B employers” to see who actually is petitioning for H-1b workers. In 2007, of the top 200 H-1B employers, the first bank listed is Citibank (54) (387,000 employees), with 322 H-1B Visas approved; Bank of America (95) (210,000 employees) had 236 H-1B visas approved; HSBC Bank USA (125) (335,000 employees worldwide) had 203 H-1B visas approved; and Deutsche Bank (154) (78,000 employees worldwide) had 170 H-1B workers approved. There are no other banks in the top 200 users of the H-1B program. So, less than 1/10 of one percent of the employees of these companies in 2007 was on an H-1B? Can we say drive-by journalism? Or, perhaps, there is an ulterior motive here. It appears the old playbook is coming out: Economic downturn, need to distract from the problem, blame the foreign workers! Hike! Let’s face reality. H-1B workers actually create jobs for U.S. citizens.

The reality is that until Congress gets its act together, does a proper study on H-1B visas numbers, comes to agreement on a appropriate amount of H-1Bs, tied to an employment rate rise or fall, we will keep allowing our elected representatives and those with an agenda against immigrants to demagogue an issue rather than deal with real problems.

A few key points to keep in mind:

  1. H-1B petitions track the economy. When hiring is down, the number of H-1B petitions goes down, and vice versa. The program is self-adjusting when the economy goes down, but there is no corresponding escalator when the economy improves – that’s the real problem.
  2. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there remains a shortage of native born students graduating with advanced degrees to fill highly specialized positions, especially in the scientific, technological, engineering and mathematic fields and these fields are projected to grow and be our future. Our own innovative industries need to have access to foreign professionals who have these skills and expertise.
  3. In economic downturns like today, there are specialized needs and skills sets in demand that will result in new H-1B petitions. At their highly-skilled level, you can’t fill professional positions without the necessary expertise and training. Employers rely on the H-1b visa to retain highly educated professions in the US and to keep us competitive in the global market. We are competing for the best and brightest with other countries that actually have the foresight and understanding to streamline work visas and immigration.
  4. As the economy returns, the US will need access to the talent and skills that foreign nationals (many of whom were educated in the US) can bring. It’s short-sighted and counter-productive to artificially limit access to this talent in the future. This is the law reform that companies have been advocating for and deserve to have enacted.

If you believe Congress needs to address the H-1B shortfall, and understand the need for United States employer to have the flexibility to hire those key foreign national workers that create jobs for United States Citizens, send a message to your Congressman and Senator today. It takes only 30 seconds and does make a difference.