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H-1B: A good system gone bad

Bart Perkins | March 28, 2017
The H-1B visa has worthy goals but terribly flawed implementation. It’s time to fix it.

H-1B visa

No one knows what the Trump administration will do about the H-1B visa program. Certainly it is in need of reform. Just as certainly, though, it needs to be retained. Visa holders admitted to the U.S. under an H-1B visa program with the right controls very much represent the type of immigration the U.S. should be encouraging.

In 1990, when Congress expanded the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, it created the H-1B visa program. Its intention was to allow U.S. employers to hire foreign professionals when qualified Americans couldn’t be found. Visa holders must have a bachelor’s degree along with specialized knowledge and experience in information technology, chemistry, engineering, math, medicine or other occupations requiring specialized skills.

Difficulties with the H-1B visa are reminiscent of earlier immigration/isolationism issues. One man’s story highlights the challenges of immigration legislation. Qian Xuesen, born in Hangzhou, China, received a scholarship to MIT in 1935. After receiving his Ph.D. from Caltech, he joined the faculty there. During WWII, he was a key member of the Allies’ missile team working to counter Germany’s V-2 rocket and was also a member of the Manhattan Project. In 1949 he became the first director of Caltech’s jet propulsion laboratory.

On June 6, 1950, his security clearance was revoked as part of the Red Scare — even though he had left China 13 years before the Communists came to power. Placed under virtual house arrest, he decided to return to China but was not allowed to leave the U.S until 1955. Back in his native land, he became known as the father of the Chinese missile program and was a major contributor to China’s first successful test of a nuclear bomb on Oct. 16, 1964.

Although the H-1B visa had not yet been created, the Qian situation highlights some of the problems that plague the U.S. visa and immigration process. Even though he made significant contributions to the U.S. war effort, Qian was never able to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. Worse, as a result of the indignities he suffered, the U.S. lost one of the world’s brightest scientific minds to one of our most competitive rivals. Former Navy Secretary Dan Kimball, who tried to keep Qian in the U.S., stated, “It was the stupidest thing this country ever did. He was no more a Communist than I was, and we forced him to go.”

Although the H-1B system was designed with good intentions and does help some companies acquire hard-to-find skills, the system is widely abused. Recently, The New York Times ran an article titled “Large Companies Game H-1B Visa Program, Costing the U.S. Jobs.” In 2011, the Government Accounting Office published a report called “H-1B Visa Program: Reforms Are Needed to Minimize the Risks and Costs of Current Program.” Today’s H-1B problems include the following:


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