The H-1B program has caused a number of criticisms.
No labor shortages
Paul Donnelly, in a 2002 article in Computerworld, cited Milton Friedman as stating that the H-1B program acts as a subsidy for corporations. Others holding this view include Dr. Norman Matloff, who testified to the US House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration on the H-1B subject. Matloff's paper for the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform claims that there has been no shortage of qualified American citizens to fill American computer-related jobs, and that the data offered as evidence of American corporations needing H-1B visas to address labor shortages was erroneous. The United States General Accounting Office found in a report in 2000 that controls on the H-1B program lacked effectiveness. The GAO report's recommendations were subsequently implemented.
High-tech companies often cite a tech-worker shortage when asking Congress to raise the annual cap on H-1B visas, and have succeeded in getting various exemptions passed. The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), described the situation as a crisis, and the situation was reported on by the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek and Washington Post. Employers applied pressure on Congress. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates testified in 2007 on behalf of the expanded visa program on Capitol Hill, "warning of dangers to the U.S. economy if employers can't import skilled workers to fill job gaps". Congress considered a bill to address the claims of shortfall but in the end did not revise the program.
According to a study conducted by John Miano and the Center for Immigration Studies, there is no empirical data to support a claim of employee worker shortage. Citing studies from Duke, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Georgetown University and others, critics have also argued that in some years, the number of foreign programmers and engineers imported outnumbered the number of jobs created by the industry. Organizations have also posted hundreds of first hand accounts of H-1B Visa Harm reports directly from individuals negatively impacted by the program, many of whom are willing to speak with the media.
Studies carried out from the 1990s through 2011 by researchers from Columbia U, Computing Research Association (CRA), Duke U, Georgetown U, Harvard U, National Research Council of the NAS, RAND Corporation, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rutgers U, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Stanford U, SUNY Buffalo, UC Davis, UPenn Wharton School, Urban Institute, and US Dept. of Education Office of Education Research & Improvement have reported that the USA has been producing sufficient numbers of able and willing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) workers, while several studies from Hal Salzman, B. Lindsay Lowell, Daniel Kuehn, Michael Teitelbaum and others have concluded that the USA has been employing only 30% to 50% of its newly degreed able and willing STEM workers to work in STEM fields. A 2012 IEEE announcement of a conference on STEM education funding and job markets stated "only about half of those with under-graduate STEM degrees actually work in the STEM-related fields after college, and after 10 years, only some 8% still do".
Wage depression is a chronic complaint critics have about the H-1B program: some studies have found that H-1B workers are paid significantly less than U.S. workers. It is claimed that the H-1B program is primarily used as a source of cheap labor. A paper by Harvard Professor George J. Borjas for the National Bureau of Economic Research found that "a 10 percent immigration-induced increase in the supply of doctorates lowers the wage of competing workers by about 3 to 4 percent."
The LCA included in the H-1B petition is supposed to ensure that H-1B workers are paid the prevailing wage in the labor market, or the employer's actual average wage (whichever is higher), but evidence exists that some employers do not abide by these provisions and avoid paying the actual prevailing wage despite stiff penalties for abusers.
Theoretically, the LCA process appears to offer protection to both US and H-1B workers. However, according to the US General Accounting Office, enforcement limitations and procedural problems render these protections ineffective. Ultimately, the employer, not the Department of Labor, determines what sources determine the prevailing wage for an offered position, and it may choose among a variety of competing surveys, including its own wage surveys, provided that such surveys follow certain defined rules and regulations.
The law specifically restricts the Department of Labor's approval process of LCAs to checking for "completeness and obvious inaccuracies". In FY 2005, only about 800 LCAs were rejected out of over 300,000 submitted. Hire Americans First has posted several hundred first hand accounts of individuals negatively impacted by the program, many of whom are willing to speak with the media.
DOL has split the prevailing wage into four levels, with Level One representing about the 17th percentile of wage average Americans earn. About 80 percent of LCAs are filed at this 17th percentile level. This four-level prevailing wage can be obtained from the DOL website, and is generally far lower than average wages.
The "prevailing wage" stipulation is allegedly vague and thus easy to manipulate, resulting in employers underpaying visa workers. According to Ron Hira, assistant professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, the median wage in 2005 for new H-1B information technology (IT) was just $50,000, which is even lower than starting wages for IT graduates with a B.S. degree. The US government OES office's data indicates that 90 percent of H-1B IT wages were below the median US wage for the same occupation.
In 2002, the US government began an investigation into Sun Microsystems' hiring practices after an ex-employee, Guy Santiglia, filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Labor alleging that the Santa Clara firm discriminates against American citizens in favor of foreign workers on H-1B visas. Santiglia accused the company of bias against US citizens when it laid off 3,900 workers in late 2001 and at the same time applied for thousands of visas. In 2002, about 5 percent of Sun's 39,000 employees had temporary work visas, he said. In 2005, it was decided that Sun violated only minor requirements and that neither of these violations was substantial or willful. Thus, the judge only ordered Sun to change its posting practices.
Risks for employees
Historically, H-1B holders have sometimes been described as indentured servants, and while the comparison is no longer as compelling, it had more validity prior to the passage of American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act of 2000. Although immigration generally requires short- and long-term visitors to disavow any ambition to seek the green card (permanent residency), H-1B visa holders are an important exception, in that the H-1B is legally acknowledged as a possible step towards a green card under what is called the doctrine of dual intent.
H-1B visa holders may be sponsored for their green cards by their employers through an Application for Alien Labor Certification, filed with the U.S. Department of Labor. In the past, the sponsorship process has taken several years, and for much of that time the H-1B visa holder was unable to change jobs without losing their place in line for the green card. This created an element of enforced loyalty to an employer by an H-1B visa holder. Critics[who?] alleged that employers benefit from this enforced loyalty because it reduced the risk that the H-1B employee might leave the job and go work for a competitor, and that it put citizen workers at a disadvantage in the job market, since the employer has less assurance that the citizen will stay at the job for an extended period of time, especially if the work conditions are tough, wages are lower or the work is difficult or complex. It has been argued that this makes the H-1B program extremely attractive to employers, and that labor legislation in this regard has been influenced by corporations seeking and benefiting from such advantages.
Some recent news reports suggest that the recession that started in 2008 will exacerbate the H-1B visa situation, both for supporters of the program and for those who oppose it. The process to obtain the green card has become so long that during these recession years it has not been unusual that sponsoring companies fail and disappear, thus forcing the H-1B employee to find another sponsor, and lose their place in line for the green card. An H-1B employee could be just one month from obtaining their green card, but if the employee is laid off, he or she may have to leave the country, or go to the end of the line and start over the process to get the green card, and wait as much as 10 more years, depending on the nationality and visa category.
The American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act of 2000 provides some relief for people waiting for a long time for a green card, by allowing H-1B extensions past the normal 6 years, as well as by making it easier to change the sponsoring employer.
The Out-Sourcing/Off-Shoring Visa
Further information: IT Body Shops
In his floor statement on H-1B Visa Reform, Senator **** Durbin stated "The H-1B job visa lasts for 3 years and can be renewed for 3 years. What happens to those workers after that? Well, they could stay. It is possible. But these new companies have a much better idea for making money. They send the engineers to America to fill spots--and get money to do it--and then after the 3 to 6 years, they bring them back to work for the companies that are competing with American companies. They call it their outsourcing visa. They are sending their talented engineers to learn how Americans do business and then bring them back and compete with those American companies." Critics of H-1B use for outsourcing have also noted that more H-1B visas are granted to companies headquartered in India than companies headquartered in the United States.
Of all Computer Systems Analysts and programmers on H-1B visas in the US, 74 percent were from Asia. This large scale migration of Asian IT professionals to the United States has been cited as a central cause for the quick emergence of the offshore outsourcing industry.
In FY 2009, due to the worldwide recession, applications for H-1B visas by off-shore out-sourcing firms were significantly lower than in previous years, yet 110,367 H-1B visas were issued, and 117,409 were issued in FY2010.
Social Security and Medicare taxes
H-1B employees have to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes as part of their payroll. Like US citizens, they are eligible to receive Social Security benefits even if they leave the United States, provided they have paid Social Security benefits for at least 10 years. Further, the US has bilateral agreements with several countries to ensure that the time paid into the US Social Security system, even if it is less than 10 years, is taken into account in the foreign country's comparable system and vice versa.
Departure Requirement on Job Loss
If an employer lays off an H-1B worker, the employer is required to pay for the laid-off worker's transportation outside the United States.
If an H-1B worker is laid off for any reason, the H-1B program technically does not specify a time allowance or grace period to round up one's affairs irrespective of how long the H-1B worker might have lived in the United States. To round up one's affairs, filing an application to change to another non-immigrant status may therefore become a necessity.
If an H-1B worker is laid off and attempts to find a new H-1B employer to file a petition for him, the individual is considered out of status if there is even a one-day gap between the last day of employment and the date that the new H-1B petition is filed. While some attorneys claim that there is a grace period of 30 days, 60 days, or sometimes 10 days, that is not true according to the law. In practice, USCIS has accepted H-1B transfer applications even with a gap in employment up to 60 days, but that is by no means guaranteed.
Some of the confusion regarding the alleged grace period arose because there is a 10-day grace period for an H-1B worker to depart the United States at the end of his authorized period of stay (does not apply for laid-off workers). This grace period only applies if the worker works until the H-1B expiration date listed on his I-797 approval notice, or I-94 card. 8 CFR 214.2(h)(13)(i)(A).
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services "H-1B Benefit Fraud & Compliance Assessment" of September 2008 concluded 21% of H-1B visas granted originate from fraudulent applications or applications with technical violations. Fraud was defined as a willful misrepresentation, falsification, or omission of a material fact. Technical violations, errors, omissions, and failures to comply that are not within the fraud definition were included in the 21% rate. Subsequently, USCIS has made procedural changes to reduce the number of fraud and technical violations on H-1B applications.
In 2009, federal authorities busted a nationwide H-1B Visa Scam.