NASDAQ chief has rubbished the widely-held belief in the US that foreign-born workers are taking away jobs from Americans.
Speaking at a Congressional hearing on immigration reform, NASDAQ CEO Robert Griefeld told Senators that studies show that for every H-1B visa, technology companies increase employment by five workers.
He was citing a study by the National Federation for American Policy.
Mr Griefeld advocated a flexible and stable regime for legal immigration.
“Reform must convey economic priorities about job growth and global competitiveness. Increasing H-1B visas is simply not enough.”
He put emphasis on encouraging innovation. “We need to admit and keep entrepreneurs here so that the creative dynamic of our economy is enhanced by the very best skills and minds.
He also highlighted the limitations of the H-1B visa system.
“I hear from CEOs that the H-1B visa system is inadequate for today’s human capital marketplace and the backlog for green cards and what they mean to the quality and the uncertainty of the lives of these foreign-born employees is a legitimate threat to their businesses,” he said.
“Many companies can, if needed, locate people in Canada, Europe, India or any country that wants those jobs and the benefits they bring,” he said.
Puneet Arora, the vice president of Immigration Voice, told lawmakers that frustration with the US immigration system sent Wharton graduate Kunal Bahl back to India in 2007 where he founded SnapDeal.com, an Indian equivalent of Groupon.
The company has US$20 million in annual revenue, over 400 workers.
Others present, including Ronil Hira, Associate Professor of Public Policy, Rochester Institute of Technology sought a revamp of the H-1B and L-1 visa programmes.
“The goal of these programmes is to bring in foreign workers who complement the American workforce. Instead, loopholes have made it too easy to bring in cheaper foreign workers, with ordinary skills — these are not specialised skills, these are not the best and brightest, these are ordinary skills — who directly substitute for, rather than complement, American workers,” he said.
“The programmes are clearly displacing and denying opportunities to American workers. The H-1B and L-1 programmes have serious design flaws and legislation is needed to fix them. Administrative changes alone such as stepped up enforcement, while necessary, are simply not sufficient to correct the problems,” Hira said.
Senator John Cornyn noted the scarcity of qualified people for high-tech jobs requiring special skills, but was quick to send a reassuring message to Americans.
“We should assure every American and all Americans that we will never hire, never allow to be hired, a foreign national under an H-1B Programme where there is a qualified American ready, willing and able to do that job,” he said.
The discussion also included recent controversy around Indian IT services major, Infosys’ hiring practices.
“The bill would strengthen the wage requirements, ridding the incentives for companies to hire cheap, foreign labour. Our bill would also require companies to attest that they have tried to hire an American worker before they hire a foreign worker,” Grassley said.
Grassley said the efforts he and others have put into the H-1B programme have already had an impact, without the legislation being passed.
Referring to Infosys, Senator Grassley said that the increased oversight of the H-1B programme, has caused the businesses to quote-unquote “think creatively” to get around the programme, using both the L and the B-1 visa to bypass the requirements and protections under the H-1B visa programme.
“Recently, this scenario came to light when an employee of Infosys filed a complaint alleging that his employer was, quote, ‘sending lower level and unskilled foreigners to the United States to work in full-time positions at customer sites, in direct violation of immigration law,’ end of quote.
“The complaint further states, quote, ‘Infosys was paying these employees in India for full-time work in the United States without withholding federal or state income taxes’, end of quote,” he said.
“Infosys, one of the top 10 H-1B petitioning companies, has worked to creatively get around the H-1B programme by using the B-1 business visitor visa in order to bring in low-skilled and low-wage workers.”
The Infosys case is yet to be decided in the court.