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Limited Work Visas Limit Economic Growth

23 Apr

By Matthew Myers, Attorney

During a time of historically low unemployment rates, U.S. employers are struggling to find available, qualified workers in the United States.  Even when employers identify an available, qualified worker from another country, outdated immigration laws effectively limit the pool of workers, and President Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” Executive Order aims to further reduce legal immigration.

Unable to find qualified U.S. workers and unable to sponsor qualified foreign nationals, businesses cannot grow, compete globally, and contribute to the U.S. economy.  Many invest and expand elsewhere.

Limited Supply of Qualified U.S. Workers Relative to Significant Demand

U.S. businesses are having trouble finding qualified workers to fill available positions according to the Federal Reserve, which noted continued “labor market tightness and brisk demand for qualified workers.”  The Wall Street Journal reported that there would still be 180,000 open jobs even if employers hired all available workers in the 12 Midwestern states.  The U.S. Department of Labor reported the national unemployment rate to be 4.1% for March 2018, the lowest rate since 2000.

Limited Supply of Work Visas to Hire Qualified Foreign Workers

When employers look elsewhere, the visa category to hire foreign professionals is generally the H-1B Specialty Occupation Visa, which has an annual numerical limitation or “cap” of 85,000 visas that does not reflect true market demand.  When the unemployment rate was last this low in the early 2000s, the Bush Administration signed the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act to temporarily increase H-1B cap to 195,000, which more closely reflects the current demand.  In 2017, more than 40,500 U.S. employers filed 199,000 cap-subject petitions during the first week, resulting in a random lottery to decide which companies could sponsor professionals.  In 2018, petitions exceeded the cap during the first week for the 6th consecutive year.

Other temporary work visa categories have outdated caps that should be eliminated or increased, such as the H-2B Temporary Non-Agricultural Work Visa.  In 2017, the Trump Administration temporarily increased by 15,000 the annual cap on H-2B visas.  Calls to reform the H-2B program continue, with “Tea Party Original” and Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner, Sid Miller, recently requesting more H-2B visas to support the shrimp industry and other industries in Texas.

Limited Supply of Qualified U.S. Workers Relative to Significant Demand + Limited Supply of Work Visas to Hire Qualified Foreign Workers = Limited Economic Growth

These actions by over 45,500 U.S. businesses, the Bush and Trump Administrations, and the conservative Texas commissioner, reflect the realities of the U.S. economy and bipartisan support to increase the availability of work visas.

Economics 101 teaches us to find where supply equals demand.  High demand relative to a limited supply of qualified U.S. workers, combined with a limited number of work visas to hire qualified foreign workers, results in U.S. companies being unable to fill key positions and grow their businesses in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.  Our capped immigration system forces or incentivizes companies to outsource workers, rather than sponsoring them locally.  Increasing the available supply of foreign workers qualified to fill empty positions would both increase the tax base and supply job creators with the employees needed to further stimulate the economy.