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H-1B vs. Green Cards

Which is Better?

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The H-1B is (technically) considered a "nonimmigrant" visa. H1-B holders are essentially indentured to their employers, since their legal right to remain and work in the United States depends on their employment. H-1B allows applicants with professional or specialized employment backgrounds to obtain employment in the U.S. for an initial three year period. Applicants can obtain a three year extension for a total stay of six years. The H-1B employer must first obtain a Labor Condition Application on behalf of the applicant from Department of Labor before petition can be filed.

H-1B admits people haphazardly into the country, then fails to grant them full rights as potential citizens. The result is a vulnerable caste of workers laboring in the hope of getting green cards and serving as a base of cheaper labor to replace workers who companies don't want to pay to retrain.


Green Card

The Green Card is a U.S. visa for permanent residency. The green card process takes 5 years or more. After getting a green card, the worker is eligible to become a naturalized US citizen after 5 years. Most of them do so. Legal permanent residents, like U.S. citizens, are free agents in the U.S. economy. They can look for work, bargain for wages,  and change jobs just as any U.S. citizen.

The green card procedure itself has several different categories. The best, from the worker's point of view, is EB-1, the so-called National Interest Waiver. If the worker can document that he is of truly exceptional talent, i.e. world-class, he can actually sponsor himself for a green card, thereby avoiding the indentured-servant problem. There are also the EB-2 and EB-3 green card categories, which are employer-sponsored.


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Paul Donnelly  - IEEE-USA

Paul Donnelly is a contributor to Immigration Reform Coalition. The Immigration Reform Coalition is an unincorporated association of groups and individuals who believe that green cards, not guest workers, should be the foundation for American immigration in the 21st century. They hope to influence Congress to keep the H-1B quota the same as it is now and to allow green cards to be issued faster.

Paul said, "When an employer wants to hire somebody from outside the United States, he now has two options. First, he can use one of the 140,000 permanent residency visas based on employment, which make the new hire an IMMIGRANT, in fact what we used to quaintly call an American. Once the new hire gets permanent residency, he (she) is a free agent. He won't undercut U.S. workers, because he IS a U.S. worker.Second, he can get the new hire a NON-immigrant visa. So the new hire is not a free agent, can't quit his job to take a better one without a lot of hassle, and is pretty much stuck with whatever the employer provides Which makes more sense to you?"

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H-1B Hall of Shame

ShameH1B had a phone conversation with Paul Donnelly. He is very intelligent and interesting. He is a Washington insider who has been involved with immigration work issues for a long time.  Paul said that there would be strict standards that companies would have to adhere to in order to hire a green card immigrant. American workers would be protected from companies that choose to hire green cards over H-1Bs.

Don't forget that Congress lied when they said they would protect American jobs from being taken by  H-1Bs. It would be foolhardy to rely on this same corrupt government to protect us against a new green card program. Our government's pathetic track record of protecting us from H-1B abuse should be a reason to doubt any further promises.

ShameH1B agrees with Donnelly that given a choice, it is better to issue green cards than H-1B visas. BUT THAT DOESN'T SOLVE THE PROBLEM. It's almost comparable to giving a condemned man a choice of hanging or lethal injections. The prisoner would probably agree that dying by lethal injection is better, but that won't solve his problem anymore than Paul's ideas will solve  job security erosion.  American companies have shown a lust for hiring cheap,  young, and compliant immigrants. Our government is providing a huge pool of foreign workers that compete for the same jobs that qualified and older Americans want. Our lawmakers are making it way too easy for companies to discriminate against Americans.

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Dr. Norman Matloff   author of  "Debunking the Myth of a Desperate Software Labor Shortage"
Department of Computer Science
University of California at Davis

In short, Paul's [Donnelly} argument is to give "instant green cards" to the H-1Bs (they would stay as H-1Bs only for a short period of time, maybe a couple of months) as long as the employers spend money on training which they would have spent on legal fees during the protracted period during which green cards are pending under the current system.

Paul views this as a "win-win-win situation" for all parties concerned: In the scenario he envisions, the H-1Bs win because they avoid having to work as "indentured servants"; the employers win because they are spending money on something useful like training rather than on lawyers; and the general programmer/engineer population wins because their wages and job opportunities are not undercut by the presence of exploitable indentured servants.

Paul and I have talked about this for long periods of time on the phone and in e-mail. Paul has excellent insight, but the major point of departure between us is that PAUL'S PROPOSAL WOULD BE JUST AS HARMFUL TO THE AGE DISCRIMINATION PROBLEM AS IS THE CURRENT POLICY. As I have emphasized repeatedly, even if employers were to give H-1Bs full salary parity with U.S. citizens/permanent residents, employers would still prefer the younger workers to the older ones. SINCE THE H-1BS TEND TO BE YOUNG, UNDER PAUL'S PROPOSAL THE SAME NUMBER OF YOUNG FOREIGN WORKERS WOULD BE FLOODING THE LABOR MARKET AS WE SEE UNDER THE CURRENT SYSTEM. IN FACT, THE NUMBER WOULD PROBABLY INCREASE.

Paul understands this quite well, but he views age discrimination as a separate problem, and feels that his proposal would at least solve SOME of the problems in the current H-1B system, and thus would be an improvement. While that may be true (though see my point above about his proposal actually having the effect of *increasing* the pool of younger workers), his lack of interest in the age discrimination problem is quite disappointing to me. It is especially disappointing in view of the fact that Paul's present employer, IEEE-USA, has been a leader in documenting and fighting the age discrimination problem. Since Paul's interests lie only in the H-1B issue, a large amount of the momentum IEEE-USA had last year in this regard has already dissipated (though due to other factors too).

So for at least 1/3 of that "win-win-win situation"---the US citizen/permanent resident programmers and engineers---Paul's proposal is in fact NOT a win. What about the other 2/3?

Certainly it is a win for the H-1Bs, ending their indentured servitude. That certainly is worthwhile, as a glance at the Web sites of the suffering Indian and Chinese H-1Bs shows. (E.g.

But I don't think the employers would see it as a win. First of all, many of them really love having indentured servants. They don't just love the chance to exploit H-1Bs in terms of salary; EVEN MORE IMPORTANT THAN SALARY IS THE FREEDOM FROM FEAR THAT THE H-1B WILL SUDDENLY LEAVE FOR ANOTHER EMPLOYER, CAUSING A MAJOR DISRUPTION TO THE CURRENT EMPLOYER'S PROJECT, AND MAYBE EVEN TAKING THE CURRENT EMPLOYER'S TRADE SECRETS TO ANOTHER COMPANY.  Many people don't realize just how powerful an attraction this is to employers of H-1Bs.

Second, the employers know that spending money on training for their programmers is not very worthwhile. As I have said any competent programmer can learn on the job, without a formal course. Learning on the job is actually *better* than a course. Some employers might use the money to train their non-programmer employees (Paul does NOT propose that the training money be spent on the same job categories in which the H-1Bs are hired), but still, I think even the more sincere employers realize that indentured servitude is good for them, and so would hate to give that up.

Of course, if policy gave employers a choice of Paul's route and the present one, it would certainly be a great way to call the employers' bluff on their claimed "need" for H-1Bs: If they are not just hiring the "indentured" H-1Bs to save money (note that one can often avoid the disruption of someone leaving by simply offering them more money to stay put), they ought to opt for Paul's plan. If they don't, they would have a lot of explaining to do...

Paul also would have employers under this plan sign a statement saying that they had made a good-faith effort to find U.S. workers before hiring H-1Bs. He would NOT have them give supporting documentation (a major source of processing delay under the current system) for this. I suggested that they be required to give their hiring and offer rates (the "2% hiring rates" I keep harping on) as proxy documentation of good-faith search efforts for U.S. workers (of course, this serves as "documentation" only if these numbers are high), with these numbers being fully accessible to the public, and Paul agreed to incorporate this into his proposal.

Paul feels that his proposal could be implemented from within the Executive branch, i.e. not need legislation. I have talked to some people, including in the Executive branch, who are skeptical of this. It should be noted that Paul also considers the proposal outlined below to be part of a larger, much more complex package which would among other things rearrange priorities among the various family-based immigration categories, which of course would have to go through Congress. The latter aspect is too complex for me to describe here, and in my opinion, too complex to be politically viable either.