The Trump administration’s focus on immigration has brought the H-1B visa program to the forefront of the news. This visa program was originally intended to import talent to meet the void between the growing demand for high tech skills and the lack of available U.S.-based talent. Unfortunately, over the years, the program has been abused to the point that some American workers have been forced to train their replacements who lacked the skills and experience to take over their jobs. It goes without saying that this program needs a complete overhaul and a redirection of its intended purpose. Following are three ideas that could help the U.S. build a sustainable workforce strategy.
First and foremost, the Trump administration should create an import tariff similar to the proposed 2008 legislation on oil companies that would’ve encouraged development of alternative energy sources. Levying a tax on H-1Bs of $10,000 per approved application would generate $650,000,000 in funds that could be used to train individuals with base-level competencies for a career in technology. Putting a program such as this in place would enable displaced workers from, for example, the coal industry to reskill themselves; it would enable military veterans to gain valuable training to jumpstart their tech careers; and it would enable the underemployed to increase their earnings potential. This workforce enablement strategy could produce enough U.S.-based talent to cut in half what Code.org said will be a 1,000,000 shortfall of tech talent by 2020.
Second, Trump’s senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller, proposes that we should scrap the H-1B lottery system that is inundated with applications from large outsourcing firms. I couldn’t agree more. Would Nick Saban (University of Alabama’s highly successful college football coach) recruit the best football players in the country by picking their name out of a hat? No way. I believe we should import truly talented individuals to the U.S. as needed to fill the shortfall in our workforce and to put the very best team possible on the field. In order to do this, we need to validate that the individuals granted H-1B work visas possess the skills needed and are qualified for the job.
Third, Congress should incorporate the portion of the “Protect and Grow American Jobs Act” which raises the minimum salary of the H-1B worker from $60,000 – $100,000 into a broader, long term solution. This salary raise (which hasn’t changed since 1998) would help ease some of the abuses of the H-1B program by reducing the economic incentive of companies to replace U.S. workers with cheaper foreign labor. While this simple act addresses the “Protect” portion of its title, it does not address the “Grow” portion. In order to do this, Congress should incorporate the tariff mentioned in point one to fully address the intended desire to make the U.S. more reliant on our own willing and able workforce.
By implementing these points, the Trump Administration would effectively enable U.S. workers to gain the skills needed to launch a career in the tech industry. It would also identify the best talent to enter the U.S. while eliminating the abuse of the H-1B program that undercuts U.S. talent and leads to offshoring the work.