With the debate over H-1B workers reaching a fevered pitch – both in Congress and across the IT landscape — one voice often missing is that of the Programmers Guild. A national volunteer-based organization that represents over 1,000 programmers, most of them over 40, the Guild has made little progress in pushing its H-1B reform proposals forward in Congress.
We spoke with Kim Berry, the Guild’s president, regarding his organization’s views on today’s policies, reforms it favors and where the employment of H-1B workers may be headed in the future.
Over 50 percent of H-1B workers are listed as “entry level.” Do you believe the U.S. doesn’t have enough IT workers who are just starting out?
Predominately, H-1Bs are used at the entry level, Level 1. And that’s only people with basic skills and who need direct supervision. We have many people coming out of the best colleges who can’t find jobs. They can apply at Microsoft, Google and all of the best companies, but they don’t get replies back. If anything, the jobs that Microsoft and other tech companies are hiring for are for three to five years of specific experience. So, these H-1Bs are directly competing against our college graduates, many of whom have run up huge student loans and sacrificed a lot to get their STEM degrees.
What do you think of the way the government handles the prevailing wage policy?
The prevailing wage is really interesting. The government first takes a normal curve of what average Americans might earn, then divides it into four levels. So, the first level is the 17th percentile. This means that 17 percent of Americans earn less than this. That’s what they set for Level 1 for the H-1Bs. That could be $20,000 less than what an average American earns. What we’re saying is that we are bringing in H-1Bs that have more skill than the average American, but we’re going to pay them at the bottom end of the normal prevailing wage. As American workers, we look at that and that is in no way protecting the interests of the average American tech worker.
One of the reform measures being proposed is that jobs should first be filled with U.S. citizens, and that the process be transparent. But isn’t that what’s being done now?
Currently, H-1B employers don’t have any requirement in 99 percent of the cases to recruit and fill the job with a U.S. worker. An employer can go to the [Department of Labor] website and say, “I want this H-1B worker and am willing to pay the technical prevailing wage.” The Department of Labor approves that, almost immediately, and they staple that to a visa. That’s the process for getting an H-1B worker in here. Employers never have to claim that they tried to recruit Americans. That is a reform that we feel is long overdue.
One measure that tech companies are discussing would streamline the process of turning an H-1B holder into a green card holder. Is that a better solution?
There’s a proposal out there called “Staple a Green Card,” which means anyone from anywhere in the world who can get a STEM degree in the U.S., they don’t have to have a high GPA, they don’t have to have a job, we’re going to staple a green card to their visa. The trouble is that Microsoft and Google aren’t looking for entry-level workers. They’re looking for people with three to five years of experience. We have people coming out of our colleges who can’t find work, so stapling green cards has two problems. One is that it further displaces the recent American graduates and, second, it can turn our American universities into green card mills.
Where are your reform proposals going? Who have you approached and what response have you gotten?
We’re a small group of volunteers. We did send one of our board members to D.C. to meet with the new Congress. But in general, we’re just not making the same headway. Congress is not listening to the interests of U.S. workers. They are meeting with the leaders of multinational corporations, they are meeting with immigration rights proponents and others who have a stake in keeping wages low and bringing in more immigrants. We have a few Congressmen on our side, but it doesn’t look good. The majority are buying into the idea that there is a shortage of tech workers.
- How 800,000 H-1B Workers Came to the U.S.
- The Picture in Washington
- Current Laws and Policies
- Programmers Guild: The American Worker Needs Protection
- Industry Group: More STEM Grads, But H-1B Reform, Too
- The Corporate Perspective: Intel’s Approach to H-1Bs
- The Opponent: H-1Bs Pressure U.S. Wages
- The Economist: H-1Bs Are Important to the Economy
- A Guest Worker’s Perspective on H-1Bs