How much do H1B workers really earn? Firstpost Facebook Live April 25, 8 am IST

What does an H1B worker really earn? To which the precise counter would be - in which of the 50 states of the U.S.A?

The backlash against the H1B is so noxious that the time for such region-based clarification is gone, the megaphone is in the White House and they’ve got all the dirt on this most scrutinised of all temporary work visas in the world - the now beleagured H1B.

The H1B lottery - less about opportunity, more about heft, says White House/ Reuters

The H1B lottery - less about opportunity, more about heft, says White House/ Reuters

If Trump were to tweet size the H1B pickle, it would read like this:

N/1 “H1B is broken. Entry level hires at $65K faking it as “high skilled” are taking your jobs.”

N/2: “H1B not lottery, it’s for the best brains. Drain the swamp. Buy American, Hire American.”

Within the first 100 days, the assault on the “fraud and abuse” of the H1B visa has been one of the big wins for the Trump administration - one that fits neatly into the war cry that won Trump the White House - “they’re taking our jobs.”

In its most persuasive indictment of the H1B system as it exists today, the White House has compressed its pushback into two pills:

One is that large outsourcing companies are gaming the H1B lottery by putting in thousands of aplications and cornering a lion’s share of the total 65,000 + 20,000 visas on offer. ( 20,000 for those with US Master’s degrees.)

The second is that once H1B workers come to America, the earnings of at least 8 out of 10 workers are such a pittance that they crowd out the American worker anyway because of the dismal salary level.

There are many more swipes against the H1B but these are the fundamental underpinnings for the call to reboot the H1B.

These are the numbers the White House dished out exactly 24 hours before the executive order on H1Bs:

“And many people will be surprised to know that about 80 percent of H1B workers are paid less than the median wage in their fields.  Only about 5 to 6 percent, depending on the year, of H1B workers command the highest wage tier recognized by the Department of Labor, there being four wage tiers.  And the highest wage tier, for instance, in 2015, was only 5 percent of H1B workers.
So 80 percent receive less than the median wage, and only 10 percent receive the median wage.  And so only 5 percent were categorized at the highest wage tier of the four wage tiers that are in place for the H1B guest worker visa.  The result of that is that workers are often brought in well below market rates to replace American workers, again, sort of violating the principle of the program, which is supposed to be a means for bringing in skilled labor, and instead you’re bringing in a lot of times workers who are actually less skilled and lower paid than the workers that they’re replacing.

Indian IT industry’s apex body Nasscom countered the White House claim saying the country's two top companies — TCS and Infosys — got only 8.8 per cent of H-1B visas.
“Of the six Indian IT companies, software majors TCS (Tata Consultancy Services) and Infosys received 7,504 H-1B visas in FY 2015, which is 8.8 per cent of the total H-1B visas.”

“Indian IT firms account for less than 20 per cent of the H-1B visas; although Indian nationals get 71 per cent of them, testifying their high skill levels, especially in the very coveted STEM skills category,”the Nasscom statement said.

Link to the White House H1B briefing

What the White House has done is to juice the essence of the garden variety of H1B reform bills pending in Congress and present it in a way that can be swallowed easily by a large audience, especially Trump’s core support base of white working class Americans who may not even be in the tech category but will rejoice at the messaging of the Buy American Hire American order.

Now, let’s come to the nuts and bolts:

Some lawmakers have proposed a minimum yearly salary requirement of say $100,000 for temporary foreign workers. That sounds fair on the US East Coast and the West Coast where living costs are high but those are not the only places where H1B workers end up. What about a worker in Texas or South Carolina or Wisconsin where a $ 100,000 base rate has no connection at all to the cost of living or even industry benchmarks.

On the supply side, the key is really that employers pay the prevailing wage for a given position in a given location, or more.

The White House says that this 'prevailing wage' is not being paid but that's less important on the H1B pain scale.

It’s not as if the H1B is being strapped-in only post-Trump, H1-B visas have always been more highly regulated than any other temporary work visa.

But what’s the point monitoring a visa after it’s already been gamed via the lottery system?

Of the two rotten eggs - H1B lottery and unfairly low wages, the lottery is the bigger stinker, the White House briefing suggests.
As the H1B backlash picks up momentum, lone ranger H1B applicants from around the world are gathering courage to speak up against the H1B lottery system.

We spoke to one such techie on April 25 at 8 am IST on live video. Catch the conversation on our Facebook page.

Twitter | @byniknat

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Updated Date: Apr 25, 2017 16:20:53 IST

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