NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Want to Move a Worker to the United States? Good Luck.

July 9, 2012

American companies have griped for years about how hard it is to hire high-tech workers from abroad under the government's H1-B visa program. Now they're upset with the Obama administration about the difficulty of getting visas for foreign workers already on their payrolls (L1-B visas), who are needed for key projects in the United States, says BusinessWeek.

So intense is their frustration that Oracle, Microsoft, Starwood Hotels and some 50 other companies warned President Obama in a March letter that "American job growth and the U.S. economy are being harmed."

  • Getting these permits used to be routine: from 2003 to 2007, an average of only about 8 percent of company requests were denied by the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
  • By 2008, that rejection rate had tripled, only to increase further last year to 27 percent.
  • Further, companies charge that rejected applications are often arbitrary in their justifications; decisions are based on the technical understanding of 250 USCIS case workers who must decide if the applicant's knowledge is so specialized that an American could not do the job.

Further, unlike the H1-B visas, L1-B visas carry no condition that admitted workers be paid a competitive wage with American workers. This leaves companies clamoring for more visas open to the charge that they are simply trying to lower labor costs.

However, companies have responded that the limitations on importing foreign expertise have caused significant economic damage. For example, TWMA, a company whose Houston-based subsidiary handles waste for the natural gas and oil industries, says it is ready to hire 200 to 300 more Americans this year -- if Washington approves work papers for six foreign engineers needed to train the U.S. staff.

Source: Elizabeth Dwoskin, "Want to Move a Worker to the U.S.? Good Luck," BusinessWeek, June 14, 2012.

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