Where Does President Obama Truly Stand on The H-1B Visa Category?

February 19, 2012

Obama.jpgThe Obama administration has argued that the U.S. is in need of engineers, especially in high tech industries. He publicly defended the H-1B visa category during an online forum where the wife of a laid-off U.S. tech worker told the president that her husband, a semiconductor engineer, was laid off from his full-time job at Texas Instruments three years ago following a plant shutdown. She asked why the government continues to issue H-1B visas when many U.S. tech workers are jobless. Obama replied that the H-1B program does not displace U.S. workers because it should be reserved only for those companies who say they cannot find somebody in that particular field. Obama said that the industry leaders have told him that there aren't enough of certain kinds of high-tech engineers in America to meet their needs (see here). This would make it appear that Obama is in favor of the H-1B visa program.

On the other hand, the administration seems to have all but declared war on the H-1B visa category by stepping up its enforcement unannounced H-1B employer audits. The government has increased the number of H-1B visa denials to those foreign nationals of countries with a large number of IT professionals, such as India. The administration has been silent regarding the arbitrary cap set by Congress that currently prevents U.S. employers from hiring new H-1B workers for the next 8 months.

Furthermore, Obama's statement that the H-1B visa "should be reserved only for those companies who say they cannot find somebody in that particular field" is incorrect. Companies are not required to show they cannot find U.S. workers for the positions they seek to fill with H-1B workers. The real question here is whether Obama was merely incorrect, or does he actually seek to change our perception of the H-1B rules?

The administration seems to be targeting the H-1B visa program for scrutiny, yet ignoring other areas of immigration enforcement. The Obama administration recently announced its prosecutorial discretion policy to target for deportation those undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes, and its intent not to pursue deportation for those without criminal records. The new immigration policy seems to be a plan to forgive and forget undocumented immigrants so long as they don't have criminal records, but a plan to crack down on H-1B employment through heavy handed enforcement and more H-1B visa denials.

President Obama has yet to announce his clear plan for immigration reform. This being an election year, it is unlikely that we will see the president take a clear stance on either side of the issue.