Li: Quotas still hurt U.S.

A couple of weeks ago, during job interview season, I was having lunch with a few friends in Commons. My phone rang. An unanticipated blessing from New York blew into my ear. I stood up and rushed out of the dining hall, barely spelling out a “goodbye” to my friends.

They, of course, thought the job offer made me too thrilled to finish eating my food in a graceful manner. Not true. I didn’t lose my head. Instead of taking a celebratory walk to purchase five bottles of Champagne, I hurried to the Office of International Students and Scholars to fill out my Optional Practical Training application for the summer. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the governmental agency handling all immigration issues, needs up to 120 days to process my employment permit. I felt I couldn’t afford to waste a second.

That hurdle in getting hired is far from the last one for foreign students like me. No matter how much my boss will adore me over the summer, and no matter how hard those in-house lawyers will work on my full-time employment sponsorship application, there’s still no guarantee that I will get an H-1B visa, which will allow me to work lawfully in the United States after my one-year OPT period expires.

Currently, only 65,000 lucky ones out of 165,000 applicants are granted the visa each year. I may have the Yale bomb, and the power of my employer behind me, but who knows if Fortuna, the Goddess of Luck, will be on my side?

Blackstone and Fidelity, among other highly respected financial firms, have succumbed to the brutal reality of recruiting alien workers, and have chosen not to hire foreign students at all. Indeed, if neither top-notch legal expertise nor the name of Peter Lynch can guarantee the success of H-1B sponsorship, why waste the time and money?

What a tragedy — not only for foreign workers and firms, but also for the country that once prided itself on its openness to the brightest and finest. The populist claim of “American jobs for American people” has created a system that practically begs the most exceptional brains to work for America’s rivals around the world.

Yet despite its emotional appeal, barriers to hiring foreign skilled workers only work against their original purpose. Foreign skilled workers create, rather than steal, jobs for Americans. Consider a firm that cannot hire key engineers to design a new product due to the low H-1B quota. Had the firm been able to produce its product, a great number of American workers could have been hired to manufacture, market and sell it. By keeping the H-1B cap so low, this country is costing hundreds of thousands of workers their jobs. And don’t think American engineers are guaranteed to benefit. For a number of firms, they will be simply outsourcing the jobs by hiring foreign engineers in their home countries.

In addition, the nature of H-1B workers, highly educated and heftily compensated, make them ideal sources for government tax revenue. According to a Heritage Foundation report in May 2008, H-1B workers earn an average annual income of $80,000 to $110,000 — much higher than their American peers. Heritage calculations also figured that raising the H-1B cap to 195,000 visas would raise $69 billion in new tax revenue over eight years. This income would be especially helpful for a government struggling in a time of economic stress and gigantic budge deficit.

Perhaps most important, let’s not forget that a large percentage of H-1B applicants attended the pre-eminent (aka most expensive) universities in this country — on full scholarship. In other words, America is spending over $7 billion a year (assuming average annual tuition and living expense per person at $40,000) to train foreigners with supreme resources unavailable to most domestic students. It makes no sense for the country to invest so much in the most brilliant young people in the world, and then kick them back to India or China. Being a Good Samaritan is a merit, but maybe giving away free brain power at the expense of American taxpayers is trying too hard?

After the defeat of Nazi Germany, Moscow grabbed the largest share of Germany industrial infrastructure: machinery, trucks, tanks and V2 rockets. The more sophisticated Americans, however, aimed at something else. Hundreds of German engineers were shipped to America and helped develop the U.S. aerospace industry with a clear advantage over the Soviets. Truman certainly understood that the human brain, regardless of its nationality, was most vital to keep America innovative, competitive and always moving forward. Today’s administration, perhaps, should take another look at that period of history.

Robert Li is a junior in Ezra Stiles College.


  • Ferny

    I agree with the gentlemen mostly, however, H1-B isn't always a good thing. Generally in the technology field, those are the cheapest employees and many times, push Americans out.

  • P Henry

    If these visa's are going to the "best" and the "brightest", how come the top three corporations that use the program are Indian Outsourcing companies operating in the US? This has nothing to do with hiring the best talent and everything to do with acquiring cheap, foreign labor.
    Milton Friedman, Nobel prize winner in Economic Sciences, called it a “government subsidy” for corporations as far back as 2002 because it allows companies to import foreign workers at below market wages. Supporters claim that there is a shortage of workers for these positions but the reality is that there are more than enough American graduates in these fields. A simple look in the classifieds of any newpaper will confirm the shortage of jobs.
    Over the past six years, several of the banks now receiving federal bailout money requested visas for more than 21,800 foreign workers. While huge numbers of American bank employees are being laid off, the number of visas sought by a dozen banks actually increased from 3,258 in 2007 to 4,163 in 2008. This is outrageous and cannot be allowed to continue.
    Another example is Pfizer which is bringing in foreign workers from India, supposedly to take jobs that could not be filled by Americans. In the meantime, it is firing American workers. The reason is that the difference in pay is between $65 an hour for an American technical worker and $35 for a foreign imported worker.

  • Anonymous

    I agree. I think the quota system is an absolute joke. Skilled workers add to the economy and the country, not take away from it.

  • Robert

    Perhaps Mr. Li should consider that when we're being told almost daily that we're overpopulated, and our cities are certainly overcrowded rabbit warrens, there are those who prefer the beneffits of living in our country be reserved for those who have contributed to its growth, and to their children and grandchildren.
    If Mr. Li is such a talented fellow, why is he not contributing to his home land?


    Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. There are plenty of qualified Americans like myself who want to work but can't because the US government has flooded millions of cheap foreign workers like yourself on the market to lower wages and crowd us out of local opportunities. It's called international labor arbitrage and if you are successful in lobbying to get yourself in here you will be in my sinking boat too.

    Go home, ingrate. There are plenty of Americans here who need the work.

  • Anon IT manager

    I've had significant personal experience with this issue over the past decade in the Information Technology (aka IT) field. I've had the pleasure of working with a Yale graduate that I sponsored for an H1B visa because he truly had advanced, unique skills and personal qualities to offer on the project. His contributions and hard work were important to the ultimate success of the project.

    I've also had the displeasure of seeing hundreds of less qualified H1B workers, most often from India, displace American workers at businesses in the Hartford, CT area. The displaced American workers were as skilled or more so than the replacement workers, but the H1B workers often cost 20-50% less. In general, there is no legal protection for IT workers displaced by replacement workers.

    The former example is the proper use of the H1B visa program, and I expect Mr. Li would without doubt fall into this category; the later example is the more common abuse seen today and must be stopped. The guidelines for the program, which are intended to prevent the common abuses, clearly do not work. The government has caught some cases of salary inflation on H1B applications from "body shops", but is suspected of missing many more cases. This country needs a better regulated H1B visa program that works, not one that has displaced tens of thousands of American IT workers.

  • Yale 09

    I am an American.

    I challenge any foreigner to compete for my job. I welcome it!

    I am sick of conservatives demanding protection from competition.

    I am sick of liberals claiming that foreign workers are being exploited.

    Your job is not a right. It is EARNED and DEFENDED.

    Wealth is created by maximizing labor.

    Wealth is destroyed by absurdly limiting immigration policies.

    The same applies to "Buy American" provisions and "energy independence."

    No one thinks of the unseen consequences of paying more for things we could acquire cheaper.

    How many things are left unbuilt and unpruchased? How many jobs are left uncreated? All because someone thought to impose a quota.

    Free markets = free people

  • Anonymous

    to #7: real conservatives hate protectionism. mccain supported the expansion of h1b program. so did judd gregg. but guess what? gregg had to pull out as commerce sec nominee.

  • tempo

    I’m surprised here that many people’s view of economy crisis associate with condemn of foreign worker issue. I would say, this economy crisis is a crisis of American greedy.

    When it has been almost become America’s culture to blame on anything else, when there is problem of themselves. This self-proud and deny of failure spirit has its good side, that is aggressive to success, creating a relatively even society which providing equal opportunities to everybody. But there is downside also, that is greedy and lese self-knowledge. People encourage ambitious, greedy, but be averse from admitting any real mistake.

    So, lets face the fact now.

    Fact 1. The America was and is an immigration country.
    Those people saying immigrants are “ingrate”, please ask their own parents when did they, or their parents’ parents become a “ingrate”. People come from different continent with a dream. They fulfill it with theirs diligence and dedication, thus build up America’s today. It is not only ridiculous but also a shame, when the offspring from old immigrants lying on the alms, proud of themselves, chewing the fruit from their ancestor, and blame on the new immigrant has taken a little tinny piece of butter earned by their hard working.

    Fact 2: “Our illegal immigration counters are based on an estimated 20,000,000 illegal aliens having been present in our nation as of January 1, 2004.”

    Fact 3: “The current annual cap on the H-1B category is 65,000.”

    Those self called talent American, did you ever count this number and think about it? Did you ever feel strange when those so called minority became flourished? But the real minority people from in number from Asia never had any privilege of being minority? May be you will think about this when you become real minority in number one day.

    In my view, it’s urgent today for the government to set up proper and feasible guidelines for the immigration program. Illegal immigrants which is a much bigger number than the legal H1b worker should be extruded, instead of be recruited for the exchange of their votes for the politicians. Legal workers should be giving the chance of immigration as long as they fit the category of benefiting this country. Unfortunately, those politicians making the rules are also greedy. They are clever enough to know which group people have a bigger number, so will benefit their election more but not the country.

    So, the reality is.
    1, The politicians are greedy, they want more vote rather than a brighter future of the country;
    2, The brokers are greedy, cheering “greedy is alright!”;
    3, The bankers are greedy (sorry I don’t even want to talk about those smart guys);
    4, The poor people are greedy, they want a bigger house they could not afford but wish the house will pay off itself;
    5, The rich people are greedy, they sent whole manufacture industry out of the country.

    “Very surprisingly”, problems came. These people looking at each other couldn’t tell any difference. They look around and find a guy working hard in the corner. Ha ha, suddenly, they find the problem.

    So, we are talking the problem now

  • yale10

    After 9/11, President Bush halved the number of H1-B visas available. 10% of Yale's student population is "international", thousands of international students study at American universities every year. To educate these talented young people who have shown themselves to be among the top 1% in their home countries and then force them home is a drain on the U.S. economy. H1-B visas create jobs, as Mr. Li points out.

    H1-B visa workers with graduate degrees are not here to undercut U.S. wages. They are here to add to the U.S. economy.

  • P Henry

    Tempo, your comment above makes absolutely no sense. Are you an example of the world's "best" and "brightest"?

  • Tempo

    P Henry, as a biologist myself, I admire your economic knowledge but not your altitude arguing questions. When you say anyone making nonsense, please explain why. Please point out which fact and reality I listed above does not make sense. And, please, the "best" and the "brightest" are not proper words for H1b workers, may be “good” as average I would say. When blaming H1b workers down impact economy recession, you must recognize the reason to have H1b is to benefit America as a whole country, at least to the employer, you can easily understand.

    If you insist the H1b took over working opportunity from native worker, lets see 2 numbers.

    Firstly, how many H1b workers working in USA now. Since I couldn’t find out the exact number, I would estimate this number is around 0.84 million. This is based on 2 realities: 1) The maximum duration of the H-1B visa is six years; 2) the peek number 195000 from FY2003, and 65000 (plus 20000 advanced degree H-1B visas) from FY2009.

    Then let’s see how many workers were laid-off, “Number of Laid-Off Workers Hits 5 Million by Feb 20, 2009”

    Assuming no single H1b worker was laid-off, and all people got laid-off were American and because of a foreign worker’s came, that means one H1b worker took over 6 working positions from American workers. Does this make sense?

    Conclusion, talking the impact of H1b workers competing working opportunity with American workers to the recession of economy is avoiding the important and dwell on the trivial. People like to give a big credit on this topic can not be explained other than unwilling to face the real economic problem.

  • baby

    I do believe a strong and powerful country should possess both cash and knowledge on hands.

    The origin of the country is full of diversity of immigrants, therefore, the H-1B aliens/workers are just an "outside" knowledgeable population added to the existing pool of our Americans'talents in the society. Although not all H-1B aliens are the brightest persons, they are still qualified to graduate in the universities. Remember no one is perfect because we are not "God". Practice/training makes "perfect".

    In this huge economic crisis, I do believe the input of money is critical and is the only solution to save the economic recession. Although someone thinks that the impact of H-1B workers is huge to hurt the economy because they grab the working opportunities of the citizens, I do believe that is partially true. It is because this is not the ONLY factor which makes huge unemployment in the society. I do think there are a lot of factors which cause the economic crisis such as economic recession in the other countries and this in turn makes less export demand of our products to earn money. Also,the war cost a lot of taxpayers' money. Besides, some people spend a lot which is out of his/her budget and continue to borrow money from the bank without repaying the money back. All these will decrease the cash flow in the economy and subsequently lead to job cuts in worsening the economy. You can think retrospectively that in the good economy times, the H-1B workers and the citizens do not compete jobs of each other. Therefore, the recent competition of jobs is mainly due to the worse economy. In other words, the main factor is because there is not enough cash flow in the economy. If we have money, we can hire a lot of workers.

    Recently from the online news talking about the H-1B visa frauds and there is forum talking about there are a lot of international students (the ones who have advanced degree in science, health, maths,technology and engineering majors) waiting for the H-1B working visa, I immediately have an vigorous feeling that if the H-1B visa system is cancelled (due to visa frauds). And every international student who have those advanced degree pay non-refundable immigration entry fee(US$20,000)to the country, there will be tremendous cash inflow to the economy. Also,after they immigrate, separate payments in all kinds of taxes should be imposed. They should be entirely financially independent without getting any social security benefits from the country even though they are unemployed once they immigrate. They must create jobs to help the society to build up the economy. Of course,those aliens must be free of criminal record by passing the background check.

    You can imagine if the relatives/friends of this type of greencard holders visit US and these will indirectly increase the sales in flight tickets,restaurants, hotels and retail business. Therefore, it indirectly creates more jobs by promoting tourism. It indirectly reduces economic recession (or national debt) because increases cash flow by paying non-refundable immigration entry fee and taxes to the country, putting extra cash in banks & buying houses (after immigration) and increase the profits of retail business by buying goods (after immigration)as well as promote tourism.

    Again, cash and knowledge are welcome and every immigrant should be responsible, financially independent individuals. As a result, economic recession will be easily to be recovered.

  • jon

    yes, americans having job is good.

    but there's something fishy about rejecting boatloads of highly skilled professionals when the U.S. economy depends on increasing numbers of highly skilled professionals. wages will go down for some. woohoo globalization. Especially during an economic crisis I find it imperative one on hand to beg my fellow American to deracinate our rumps from la-z-boy recliners and on the other to request our neighbors the Chinese Thai etc to ship us some top quality minds since we're too poor to fill our boats with their lead toys and poison toothpaste etc anymore. when we the capitalist ivy elite are all rich and fat smoking cuban cigars in maui and new york with our imported friends, only then we can be consider resuming playing the game of dangling work permits and green cards in front of hapless law-abiding genius foreigners to watch a few thousand of them jump up and down in their white coats while millions of illegal immigrants cruzar la frontera cuz we ain't paying attention to the freakin borders and our big fences don't work porque no existe. just remember: if we don't let our foreign friends play with us to boost the us economy and lower american salaries then those cigars we'll smoke will be the 7-11 kind, not fidel's.

  • Anonymous


    Financial Times: BofA withdraws job offers to foreign MBAs
    By Della Bradshaw in London
    Published: March 9 2009 00:07 | Last updated: March 9 2009 00:07

    guess blackstone and lazard are not alone anymore…