Byzantine Visas

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed earlier in the week, Martin Lawler and Margaret Stock wrote about dysfunctional and too low limits on H-1B visas for skilled, educated foreign workers. While on the right track, though, they missed some points.

Some claim there is no shortage of science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) workers, and that US companies hire foreign employees to be “indentured workers” who can be paid low wages. In 2012, David North of the Center for Immigration Studies said, “It is well known that many H-1B workers are, in effect, indentured by employers who had filed to obtain green cards for them—they are nominally free to leave, but it can be hard to keep your resident alien application alive after leaving the employer who set it in motion.”

Lawler and Stock correctly point out the fatuousness of this erroneous claim, but they miss a larger point. Say, arguendo, that North is right. There are two solutions to this, and neither include North’s view of how such foreign workers should be treated. Lawler and Stock addressed the foolishness of the (low) quota for H-1Bs. The other solution is to cut out the nonsense on the green cards: decouple them from visas. Either the green card applicant is suitable, or he is not. His STEM education is only one criterion, and it needn’t be a critical one.

And, in support of the above correction, Lawler and Stock note that

[t]he Labor Department must certify, through a formal process, that H-1B wages are appropriate. Public notices of the jobs, including the wages, must be posted at the work site. The notices must contain specific information about filing a complaint challenging the wage and working conditions. Once the certification is issued, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services conducts a thorough review of the entire case, including details about the employer, employees and positions.

But this misses a larger point, too. Government has no business entering the premises of a private enterprise and dictating to that enterprise who it may hire, at what pay rate, or (within very broad limits) under what conditions.

Full stop.

Labor price should be as competitive as any other good or service price.

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