Why 100,000 American Jobs May Soon Be Filled By the Spouses of Immigrant Workers

Homeland Security is proposing to allow tens of thousands of foreign workers’ spouses to fill U.S. jobs in a bid to retain immigrant talent

May 18, 2014 at 11:00AM

HelpSource: Flickr / Andreas Klinke Johannsen.

Scarcely one month after U.S. companies snapped up 85,000 H-1B visas allowing businesses to bring highly skilled foreign workers to this country for full-time work, the Department of Homeland Security is floating two new proposals on the immigration front.

One would help extend the amount of time certain skilled workers could remain in this country, and the other would allow dependent spouses of many H-1B workers to seek employment in the U.S. – a condition not previously allowed.

The draft regulations – which were recently submitted for public comment by July 11, 2014 – would affect up to 100,600 spouses of guest workers already working in the U.S, and another 36,900 annually thereafter. The move, according to DHS, is meant to "ensure that the U.S. has the most skilled workforce in the world."

An effort to retain foreign workers
The motivation behind these changes is to make staying in the U.S. easier and more attractive to immigrant employees. Spouses of H-1B workers, currently classified as H-4, would be allowed to request employment authorization under the new law. Only those who are married to a worker who has petitioned for permanent residence will be covered.

While this benefit would surely be a boon to the H-1B workers and their families, it is hardly good news for the 9.8 million Americans still without work – 3.5 million of whom belong to the ranks of the long-term unemployed. Some critics, such as Jeff Sessions, a Republican senator from Alabama, notes that allowing this change will increase the number of positions already occupied by guest workers, estimated to be about 700,000.

U.S. companies would be well served by this change, as well. Tech and manufacturing industries have lobbied hard to expand the H-1B program, while congress remains bogged down on the issue of immigration reform. U.S. businesses filed 172,500 H-1B petitions for the available 85,000 visas last month, and adding approximately 100,000 more foreign-born workers into the mix would essentially accomplish their goal.

Lots of STEM graduates, with no place to go
Is there really, as tech and other companies complain, a shortage of available American workers?

As DHS says, H-1B visas are used to secure foreign workers in such fields as "science, engineering, or computer programming". But evidence strongly suggests that there are plenty of science, technology, engineering, and math graduates right here in the U.S.

The problem isn't that there is a dearth of qualified STEM applicants right here at home – the issue is that U.S. firms aren't hiring them.

The Center for Immigration Studies, for instance, has noted that the number of STEM degrees awarded consistently outnumber the job openings available in the field, and will continue to do so well into the future. An article in the Columbia Journalism Review last year concurred, and pointed out that, in 2012, only 38% of STEM PhDs had found work in their area of study, as had 50% of master's degree recipients. Only one-third of bachelor's degree graduates had procured full-time jobs, as well.

While there is no reason to doubt the qualifications of foreign workers – or their spouses – the idea that the "best and brightest" employees required to "support companies here at home" must necessarily hail from countries outside of the U.S. is more than slightly insulting to American workers.

To somehow infer that domestic workers cannot learn what foreign workers apparently can is just patently false.

Is the DHS saying, then, that U.S. colleges are somehow inferior to those in other countries? It would seem not: 20,000 of the 2015 85,000 H-1B visas are reserved for foreign students graduating from American institutions of higher learning – for whom domestic companies seem to have a preference, despite the high numbers of U.S. citizens graduating with similar degrees.

If the U.S. government and American businesses really want to help expand the economy, money spent searching overseas for workers could be put to better use right here, making sure that the country reaches full employment sooner, rather than later.

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