09/20/2013 11:07 pm ET Updated Nov 20, 2013

Immigration of Skilled Foreign Workers: America Is Shooting Itself in the Foot

We have always welcomed newcomers to the United States and will continue to do so.

This is the strong statement that opens "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act." The remaining 840 pages are basically there to restrict that "welcome to America" tradition and weaken this statement. We definitely are xenophobic geniuses.

Among them is a series of provisions aiming at skilled workforce.

Skilled workforce

Over the past decades, the United States has established the H1-B visa as the main gate for skilled workers hired by US companies. In order to avoid any abuse, the US Senate went as far as establishing quotas for H1-B visas on an annual basis.

Under the travesty of the new immigration law, Senators Orrin Hatch and Chuck Schumer and the gang of eight (that collapsed today) introduced surreptitiously a disposition that completely transforms the current landscape, and particularly affects the way companies operate in the United States. Of course this is not to stop India that represents 25 percent of the H1-B visas. Who would think about such thing?"There are some specific abuses of H-1B," Senator Richard Durbin, said during a Congressional hearing on immigration reform by the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, during which the lawmakers discussed threadbare the H-1B visa issues.

"Silicon Valley companies, warning of an acute labor shortage, say it is too costly to retrain older workers and that the country is not producing enough younger Americans with the precise skills the industry needs. Their arguments have persuaded a majority of senators to give them what they want: a provision in the immigration bill to let in many more foreign professionals," writes the New York Times.

Some years ago, the Bush administration introduced an exception on quotas for engineers: America produces ten times more lawyers and MBA than engineers: it badly needs to import them, and India, by virtue of its sheer size represents the bulk of it.

Don't count on talents, corporate America: we don't want them.
The most surprising part of this legislation is that it prohibits the ability of companies to work on the premises of their clients if the quota of H1B visas reaches a level that our lawmakers consider excessive: 15 percent.
As we all know, our lawmakers have found a way to ensure that computers of clients can be remotely accessed, and that there is no need for engineers to work on site. Senator Schumer, you might want to provide corporate America with that technology.

Here is a summary of the measure:

- Substantially increases wage requirements (with larger increases for H-1B dependent employers), establishes requirement to recruit US workers, and increase fraud detection measures and penalties. I did not know that the US Government had the right to fix salaries. I went through it for a green card application for one of my H1-B employees and found out that the Department of Labor was imposing a minimum wage at 3 times the level of the market, in a middle of a recession!
- Increases fees ($10,000 instead of $500 for non-dependent H-1B employer) for employers with large shares of H1B and L-1 holders in workforce and prohibits hiring more than 50 percent on these visas from FY2016 onwards. Foreign workers with green-card petitions spending not counted toward total. That means that we make sure that only large firms will benefit from it: small enterprises cannot afford a 20 times increase in fees.
- Provides work authorization for spouses from some sending countries. The others have to get married here or should not get married and live as concubine. I am sure that Churches will love it.
- New online job posting requirement before hiring H-1B worker. This used to be the case for green card applications. This is temporary visas, not citizenship.

I have the blues

As smart as our lawmakers are, their ability to come with such an idea is close to zero. Could it be that US companies would like to use anti-competitive practices to counter the growing success of foreign technology companies? Might they have whispered that in exchange for one form of another form of corruption of our lawmakers? The Unions do not cares about skilled workers who are not unionized.

Of course not. That would give Corporate America the blues. The Big Blue.

Do we want talents to leave the US?

Talents have to be diverse and multiform is the United States want to compete in the global marketplace, and in particular in the IT space. The current proposal has a pervert effect: it creates an incentive for foreign companies to send the smallest possible workforce to the United States.

That does not mean they would hire more US engineers: there is already a shortage, as Bloomberg describes it. While the mass of lawyers we are graduating every year start having difficulties to find adequate and well paid jobs, engineers do not have such problem.
We should remember we are a nation of immigrants, and America built its strength on its openness.
Let's leave the conclusion to HPC wire: The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine describe STEM as "high-quality, knowledge-intensive jobs...that lead to discovery and new technology," benefiting the US economy and standard of living. The US may be short by as many as three million of these highly-skilled workers by 2018, putting national competitiveness at risk.