Monday, September 12, 2016




Only rarely do Republicans and Democrats in California’s ideologically and politically divided congressional delegation work together on problems, but the often abused H1-B visa program is now the subject of some unusual cooperation.

          The H1-B, created to help grow the economy by providing temporary visas to highly-skilled foreign individuals when employers can’t find suitable hires in the American work force, is one of the most abused of all government programs.

          Not only do high-tech companies constantly work to find loopholes allowing them to bring in more workers than the legal 85,000 H1-B visa limit would allow, but they don’t even want to fully report on workers they do hire.

          Those technology companies not only lobby Congress to up the limits (which used to be 65,000 a year); they’ve also strong-armed presidents. Outgoing President Barak Obama, for example, last year essentially doubled the 85,000 limit via executive action, making spouses of existing H1-B visa holders eligible for visas of their own, each to last as long as their husband’s or wife’s.

          Congress didn’t even complain about this, despite its gripes about other executive actions.

          Now come two ideologically very different congressmen from San Diego County, conservative Republican Darrell Issa and liberal Democrat Scott Peters, with a plan to clamp down on two common kinds of H1-B abuse. They would eliminate two exemptions that have gone unchanged since 1998. These allow companies not to attest that they couldn’t find suitable, comparable American employees, so long as their immigrant workers either make more than $60,000 a year or hold a master’s degree.

          Said Issa in a written statement: “Because master’s degrees are often easily obtained by foreign workers and because the $60,000 salary requirement was never indexed for inflation or updated, these two exemptions have allowed (a few) companies to…take up a disproportionate amount of the visas that would otherwise go to highly skilled (American) individuals…”

          In short, Issa and Peters contend, a few companies take advantage of the longstanding exemptions to hire more than their fair share of H1-B immigrants, thus depriving other companies which need workers with very specialized skills of the chance to get them.

          “We need strong systems…to prevent (this) abuse and protect jobs for American workers,” said Peters.

          He and Issa propose eliminating the master’s degree exemption, because many of those “degrees” turn out to be mail-order phonies or inferior to diplomas from American universities. They would also raise the salary level for the reporting exemption to $100,000 and index it to future inflation.

          That, said Issa, would “make it much harder for firms to bring in workers at a salary that could cut American jobs.”

          So here are two longtime California politicians, normally at odds, who are willing to forego party rhetoric that often sees each party accusing the other of neglecting or even opposing the interests of American workers. That’s a downright refreshing scene in the midst of one of the roughest, most insulting presidential campaigns in modern American history.

          Plus, it’s a first effort at fixing some of what’s wrong with H1-B visas, which long have been a way for companies to save money at the expense of well-trained, expert Americans, some of whom remain unemployed for years because their salary requirements are higher than those of H1-B immigrants.

          The visas also often act as a funnel for illegal immigration, some studies showing the majority of H1-B holders either overstay their six-year limit or simply don’t go home when fired or laid off, as the visas require.

          That’s one reason the Silicon Valley sometimes seems filled with intellectual motel desk clerks, hotel maids and TV repair persons who appear overqualified for their current jobs.

          No matter who becomes president next January, the reality is that the H1-B program suffers from many abuses and needs fixing. It’s definite progress when politicos from opposing camps can at least agree on that.


    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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