Is H-1B Critically Flawed and Can We Fix It?

January 07, 2019

H-1B is an often criticized and controversial immigration program, attempting to address a shortage of skilled workers in the US. But does the H-1B program achieve this goal appropriately, and if not, what are potential solutions?

Sam Trimbach, Managing Editor of the Journal of International Law and Business,argues that not only does the program fall short of its goals, but it inadvertently perpetuates the problem it is attempting to solve. In his article, “Giving the Market a Microphone”, Trimbach notes that the H-1B program is intended to address a temporary shortage of skilled workers until the domestic labor force can meet the demand.

The critical flaw, he says, is that H-1B workers are only required to be paid at market level for their compensation. Trimbach says this creates a system with two substantial consequences: first, that it is often cheaper for US companies to replace their domestic workers with immigrants, and second, that it decreases the economic incentive for domestic workers to enter those fields, increasing the worker gap while decreasing the wages. In this way, the system builds upon itself: rather than temporarily addressing the skills shortage, it makes it worse. According to Trimbach, regardless of the merits or morality of the H-1B system, this fatal flaw makes it easier for companies to continuously hire foreign workers at the expense of their domestic labor force.

Trimbach does recommend several ways to address these problems, including adding more limitations to the H-1B program to make it harder for jobs to qualify, arguing that this will help prevent companies from abusing the program. Additionally, allowing greater mobility for H-1B workers themselves and increasing the required compensation for foreign workers would make the market value for those rise, thus enticing more US workers to join the fields, while economically discouraging companies from switching from US to foreign workers.

Chinese translation >

Citation: Trimbach, S. (2017). Giving the Market a Microphone: Solutions to the Ongoing Displacement of U.S. Workers Through the H-1B Visa Program. Northwestern Journal of International Law & Business, 37, 275–300.

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