Across the country there is significant anxiety building up in anticipation of the latest release of a prized commodity. No, I am not talking about the latest version of the Apple I-Phone or the latest edition of the X-Box. It is bigger than that. And you will not see the throngs of people lining up around the block like you saw for tickets to the March Madness Tournament or the Hannah Montana concert. Rather, on April 1, 2008, you will see a mass rush of U.S. employers to the nearest U.S. Post Office or Federal Express store as they flail away to get their H-1B applications in to DHS.
What? A little explanation will shed light to this madness. As part of a new annual ritual, the H1-B annual visa pool of 65,000 worker visas, reserved for those with higher education degrees (the “skilled” employee), is exhausted within days of them becoming available. That, under rules, requires that DHS hold a random lottery – yep, a random lottery where employers hold their breath in hopes that they win the right to bring a coveted college or master’s degreed professional into the U.S. to fill one of their vacancies. And it is anticipated that the lottery ritual will continue as employers clamor over each other for a coveted H1-B visa so they can hire a skilled foreign worker in FY 09 – yep, that’s also correct, Fiscal Year 2009. This H-1B process has more built up anticipation than a bottle of Heinz ketchup.
So what does the U.S. Government do? Perhaps there is a need for some quick Congressional deliberation and action on why our economy needs these workers. When introverted Microsoft CEO Bill Gates – yep, THE Introverted Bill Gates – stepped out of his technology cocoon to testify (perhaps even beg a little) before Congress about our H-1B April Madness, and the potential economic ruin to the U.S. technology sector this lottery may cause, any ordinary person would conclude that we may have a problem. Just visualizing Gates testifying would be sufficient for one to conclude that indeed, something has gone terribly awry. Well, I would not anticipate Congress jumping on anything related to immigration in an election year, regardless of the fact that these H1-B workers are highly educated, speak fluent English, and are mostly skilled in the science, math and technology arenas that have not been the forte of our Nation’s recent rising stars in college (me being one of them, hence my law degree). If Gates’ star appearance on the Hill does not do it, where else can U.S. employers go to for salvation from H-1B April Madness?
DHS? Remember that the strong consensus on border security is often coupled with the cry that people should go through the “legal process,” which would I believe include the H1-B visa category. In fact, the White House when announcing its immigration enforcement initiatives shortly after the defeat of comprehensive immigration reform legislation also added a few, and I mean a few, sentences on improving legal immigration avenues. I have fully supported immigration enforcement and strongly believe it is a necessary investment to restore integrity and the rule of law in our immigration system. But I also believe in fairness and that the same rule of law should encourage equally strong efforts and the necessary resources to take care of those who do wish to follow the immigration rules.
Well, here you have a business crowd led by Mr. Gates seeking to go through the “legal process” to meet his employee needs. What’s the salvo of support from DHS for those wanting to go the legal H-1B route? – a DHS regulation stating that an employer can only file one H1-B application per employee coupled with warnings to the effect that “we will also keep your filing fees that we just jacked up through the roof and deport your computer programmer if you try to be cute with multiple filings.” Is this what is considered encouragement for employers who are seeking to follow the rules? I guess it is “fair” in that when you are on a life boat with only crumbs to fight for, you are better off having rules on how to fairly distribute the crumbs than risk a full melee that may tilt the boat.
What to do? Where a baseball pitcher who may be on steroids draws the attention of a full committee for hours, requires several sessions with autograph seeking staffers, and now is drawing FBI – yep, that is also correct, THE FBI responsible for our national security – resources, there does seem to be an imbalance here. Congress and DHS, let’s get to the matters that count – especially as we all take a gratuitous coaster ride to a recession – and identify what are our true H1-B needs are to spur our economy along. Surely there is a better solution that will give access to these employees under proper safeguards against abuse without risking our economy to a round of H1-B lotto. And if there is not a solution, at least we took our best steroid-free swing.