The New H1-B Visa “Minimum Wage” Will Hurt America’s Universities | Vol. 4 / No. 14.4

Photo: mtsrs, CC BY 2.0

In which I point out that even though it’s not targeting universities, the new legislation aimed at giving Americans priority in tech jobs is going to have a massively detrimental effect on the quality of American research going forward.

The High-Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act of 2017 was introduced this week into the House by California Congressperson Zoe Lofgren, and it’s meant (in her words) to “refocus[] the H-1B programme to its original intent — to seek out and find the best and brightest from around the world, and to supplement the US workforce with talented, highly-paid, and highly-skilled workers who help create jobs here in America, not replace them.

It claims to do this by making it expensive to hire people on H1-Bs (sorry, making “a market-based solution that gives priority to those companies willing to pay the most” — again, direct quote.)

Right now, the least you can pay someone on an H1-B visa is $60,000 US, and it’s been that way since 1989. By the calculations introduced in the bill, which takes averages of certain Tech Industry salaries and then tacks on 35%, the new number will be roughly $130,000.

As a solution for the Tech Industry, maybe it’s fine, I don’t know. It seems like a pretty clumsy way of doing it, but that’s not what concerns me. There’s even a bit of the law I don’t mind much (if it’s an accurate claim), that it’ll make a “bridge” from a typical F1 student visa to green card / Lawful Permanent Resident status. That’s fine.

What concerns me is that no university is going to pay $130,000 salaries to newly-hired professors, especially in the humanities.

Look, the H1-B visa program is the current route by which the US soaks up the academic expertise of the world. People from Canada, the UK, India, the EU, everywhere — they come to the US because it has some of the best research institutions in the world. And we want them to, so that they will contribute. So they’ll create new things in America — new inventions, new companies, new ideas. If this passes — and it looks like it will — then that high-expertise talent pool will dry up, and it’ll hurt the US economy. Oh maybe not at first. But slowly, bit by bit, we’ll find that the best and the brightest aren’t here anymore, they’re somewhere else.

It’s the same thing they’re worried about with Brexit causing an exodus of European talent out of the UK.

It’s just another example of how “my country first” legislation hurts the countries it’s trying to elevate.


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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as Deputy Managing Editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.