Trump Hits A Nerve Talking About High-Skill Immigrant Visas

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MARY SCHWALM
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MARY SCHWALM

Leading GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump has climbed the polls because of his frank — and sometimes misguided — opinions on touchy political issues including race and immigration.

But despite an offensive track record, the real estate magnate made valid points regarding Silicon Valley’s diversity problem and the industry’s treatment of highly educated and skilled legal immigrant workforce.

As Boston.com’s Nik DeCosta-Klipa highlighted, Trump pounced on the seldom discussed and complex issue of tech companies heavily recruiting employees from overseas through the U.S. H-1B visa program for highly skilled workers — a practice criticized as problematic for diversity efforts and exploitative to immigrant workers.

Trump took shots at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and political opponent Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in his first policy paper for supporting open immigration policies, including a clear path to citizenship “that would decimate women and minorities.”

Too many visas, like the H-1B, have no such requirement. In the year 2015, with 92 million Americans outside the workforce and incomes collapsing, we need to companies to hire from the domestic pool of unemployed. Petitions for workers should be mailed to the unemployment office, not U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Rubio, who co-sponsored the Immigration Innovation bill this year that aims to more than double the annual H-1B visa cap up to 195,000, has since backed away from his previous stance on comprehensive immigration reform, but Zuckerberg has remained firm, continuing support of his two-year immigration advocacy project FWD.us.

Trump spouted statistics such as that about 66 percent of the IT jobs are filled through the H-1B visa-holding STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) graduates under 30, despite graduating twice as many Americans in the same fields. He also touches on pain points that women and other minorities including Latinos, black, and Native Americans are often left out of the program — having to rely on tech companies’ taking the initiative.

The 25 year-old H-1B visa program was created to spur innovation and allow companies to hire the best talent from across the globe to propel us into the future. Tech companies particularly have been criticized for abusing the program, hiring a disproportionate amount of employees, such as Indian natives who make up almost two-thirds of H-1B visa holders, according to USCIS data from 2012 to 2013.

H-1B employees, in turn, may be taken advantage of, not being paid fairly or at all, illegally being charged application fees by staffing firms, and in some cases, prohibiting their spouses from working.

Trump’s answer to end the abuse and increase tech diversity is to raise the H-1B minimum wage to force companies to also look at homegrown graduates for entry-level jobs.

Raising the prevailing wage paid to H-1Bs will force companies to give these coveted entry-level jobs to the existing domestic pool of unemployed native and immigrant workers in the U.S., instead of flying in cheaper workers from overseas. This will improve the number of black, Hispanic and female workers in Silicon Valley who have been passed over in favor of the H-1B program.

FWD.us president Todd Schulte fired back at Trump’s plan in a blog post, contending the program doesn’t steal jobs from Americans but helps create more jobs.

“We need to fix our nation’s badly broken immigration system so that more highly-skilled immigrants can create jobs here in the United States,” Schulte said, citing that each H-1B visa holder creates more than 2.5 jobs for Americans. “That means creating a Startup Visa to help entrepreneurs create the next generation of innovation here in the U.S…it means increasing the numbers of H-1B visas and reforming the program so that we don’t run out of spots.”

H-1B visas are a hot commodity: All 65,000 available slots this year were filled within the first week applications were accepted.

But while Trump hit some salient points regarding the controversial H-1B visa program, he is far from an authority on diversity. Past vitriolically xenophobic and sexist comments aside, his immigration plan released Sunday hinges on building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which could depress the economy of the United States’ third largest trading partner, and deporting more than 11 million undocumented immigrants, costing the U.S. $620 billion and hollowing out the workforce in three major industries — hospitality, construction, and agriculture.