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H1B visa controversy obscures bigger issues

Gary Beach | Nov. 24, 2014
Editor's Note: President Obama's executive order on immigration announced last night included several implications for H1B visas. Commentator Gary J. Beach, former publisher of and CIO magazine and author of "The U.S. Technology Skills Gap," shares his opinions on why the H1B visa debate is a scapegoat for a much broader challenge facing the United States.

Welcome to the Global Economy

For 214 years America's economy got along fine, thank you, before the first 794 H1B visas were granted in 1990. Prior to 1990, America's business leaders seemed content with the quality of the American tech worker. However by the mid-1990s, with massive Y2K software remediation projects underway, the H1B visa cap rose to more than 100,000 and management liked what it saw: talented, hard-working foreign technology workers who were adding value to their companies. And if the wage requirements of H1B workers were less, well that was just icing on the workforce cake. Welcome to the global economy.

There was no capitalistic cabal among CEOs in the mid-1990s that said, "Hey, we are paying U.S. technology workers too much money, let's shift gears and hire more of these less expensive H1B visa workers." No. More H1B workers entered the U.S. during this period because American business leaders respected their smarts. Moreover — and this is important — they were just starting to realize the U.S. public education system was failing to meet their employment needs.

Paraphrasing that University of Michigan professor, continuing to debate H1B quotas and caps is like "cutting your knows, H1B visa holders, to spite our face."

It's time to abolish the H1B program and focus on an issue — structural K-16 education reform — that will impact the future lives of tens of millions of U.S. citizens.


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