Independent research has broadly confirmed that Donald Trump’s contentions over the harm that the United States’ H-1B has done to home-grown tech talent may be justified.
The study Understanding the Economic Impact of the H-1B Program on the U.S., led by John Bound at the University of Michigan, estimates that domestically-sourced tech talent would have earned 3%-5% more in the period studied without the H-1B scheme, with overall American employment in the sector projected 6% to 11% higher than it actually was.
‘While our conclusions depend on the specifics of our model, we believe them to be reasonable. As long as the supply curve of US workers is not infinitely elastic, and we believe that evidence indicates rather conclusively that it is not, the availability of high-skill foreign immigrants will shift out the supply of high-skill workers in the US economy. However, as long as the demand curve for high-skill workers is downward sloping, the influx of foreign high-skill workers will both crowd out and lower the wages of US high-skill workers.’
The research posits the conundrum that the H-1B program has been an economic benefit, and contributed to the general lowering of prices associated with immigrant occupation – effectively tasking the American citizen with a choice between those lower prices or the impetus towards ‘native-first’ employment policies.
The paper concentrates on the take-up and economic effects of the H-1B Visa program from 1994 to 2001, since this period is considered one of stable economic growth for the U.S. The program was instituted in 1990.
The H-1B program allows U.S. tech companies to hire from abroad for any role ‘so complex or unique that it can only be performed by someone with at least a bachelor’s degree in a field related to the position’, and which cannot be filled locally. It reached an apex of controversy in 2015 when Disney was accused of forcing its workers to train up their H-1B replacements as a condition for final settlement of salary – a case which presidential candidate Trump was to leverage in his 2016 election campaign.
In 2014 approximately half of 120,000 H1-B visas given by the U.S. went to computer science employees.
At the end of January a draft order regarding revision of the H1B scheme under President Trump was leaked; the order promises that U.S. immigration policies should be designed and implemented to first serve those born in the country, and that visa programs should be revised to prioritise native U.S. citizens over immigrant workers.