The H-1B Visa Debate

Is the visa the problem or a symptom of a bigger problem?

I recently suggested that Congress cut the current H-1B visa limit in half for the coming fiscal year and eliminate the program entirely by 2014. (See “Memo to Congress: Cut H1B Visas by 50%.”) The post created a firestorm of insightful, intelligent and emotional responses.

The idea behind my proposal was this: The American education system, particularly in science and math, needs a makeover if we want to compete with countries like India and China. In my opinion, the H-1B six-year temporary visa program is a Band-Aid covering up our science and math woes.

We don’t need to hide the problem; we need to fix it.

RELATED LINK

Memo to Congress: Cut H1B Visas by 50%

Reader Poll: What do you think about the H-1B cap?

One tech exec, while disagreeing with my suggestion, pointed to another culprit beyond the way we teach science and math: the high cost of education. As a father who just finished investing in two college educations, I agree, and I wonder how many talented young Americans forsake a career in the sciences because of the daunting cost of higher education. Yes, there are many financial supports and community and junior college programs available for lower income kids, but answer me this: Would more young Americans opt for an education in science and math if the cost of education were lowered?

Another person who disagreed with me said, “Jobs are lost in America not because of H-1B or other factors. The real truth is that the lack of high-quality talent in America makes American firms turn to lower-cost countries like China and India and others. If U.S. workers were competitive, there’s no way they could be replaced by [foreign] workers.”

In proposing yet another solution, a person wrote that “a case could actually be made in favor of keeping the limit, but Congress should throw out this silly lottery system that lawyers have learned to game. Instead, it should be replaced with an auction system where there is a limit of 5,000 visas per month and the highest bidder wins. The more you pay in application fees, the more likely you are to get a visa.”

What do you think? You can find my blog and add to the debate at advice.cio.com.

Publisher Gary Beach can be reached at gbeach@cio.com.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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