Clueless in the White House

Vice President Joe Biden doesn’t know a thing about the H-1B visa.

There is one basic fact about this temporary work visa that everyone in political office, or running for political office, ought to understand and it is this: There’s almost nothing to stop an employer from replacing a U.S. worker with an H-1B visa holder.

U.S. IT workers understand this, especially those who have had to train their visa-holding replacement.

The idea that a visa holder can’t replace a U.S. worker is a widely held fiction with many in elected office, including Biden.

Biden was asked about the H-1B visa by a reporter at KWQC News in Iowa.

The reporter’s question: Are too many H-1B visas given out each year? Are too many highly skilled jobs going to people outside the United States?

Biden’s response: No H-1B visa can be granted to an employee to come to a company unless they can prove there is no American to fill the job. What we have had is a real vacuum in the number of computer engineers and high tech personnel to work in particularly Silicon Valley that's where most of those H-1B visas are going that's why we have made it so attractive and I don't understand why Republicans have opposed us. Three million more kids are able to get to college because of Pell grants we provide for 2500 tax credit off …. (See KWQC transcript for the rest of the answer).

The reporter interviewing Biden, Joe St. George, asked a great question. It tied the H-1B visa to the offshoring of jobs. Even if Biden didn’t know anything about the H-1B visa, he could have discussed the second part of the question, which asked if too many highly skilled jobs were going offshore. Instead, Biden went on about a labor shortage of highly skilled jobs.

President Barack Obama may have a similar lack of understanding about the H-1B visas. In his online chat with Jennifer Wedel, the wife of an unemployed semiconductor engineer, his answers about the visa weren’t clear.

Wedel wanted to know “why does the government continue to issue and extend H-1B visas when there are tons of Americans just like my husband with no job?”

Obama went down multiple paths until finally he said:

"… the word we're getting is that somebody in that kind of high-tech field, that kind of engineer, should be able to find something right away. And the H-1Bs should be reserved only for those companies who say they cannot find somebody in that particular field. So that wouldn't necessarily apply if in fact there are a lot of highly skilled American engineers in that position."

Obama was less direct than Biden by saying H-1B’s “should be reserved” only for those companies who can’t find someone in a particular field. Whether the president knows or not isn’t clear from this answer. But Obama’s decision to ask Wedel for her husband’s resume gives the impression of punting on the topic.

I wrote above there is no blanket requirement to first try to recruit U.S. workers. There is one exception in the visa law that requires employers to recruit U.S. workers if the employer is deemed H-1B dependent. There is a formula for determining this. A company with 51 or more full-time workers, of whom 15% or more hold H-1B visas, would be considered dependent.  But this provision has zero impact on the use of the H-1B visa by the outsourcing industry. The Indian firms recently pointed out that they employ 107,000 people in the U.S., of which 35,000 are U.S. workers. The balance of this labor force is on work visas, either H-1B or L-1.

It’s a safe bet that Biden doesn’t know about the dependency rule. If he did he would have qualified his answer. The same is true for Obama.

This is not a partisan point.

The Republican candidates are just as clueless as the Democrats. One exception was Newt Gingrich who is for unlimited work visas.

There will never be a complete or honest discussion about the global shift of highly skilled jobs overseas unless the political leadership understands the basics.  But they don’t know how it works so they make stuff up, like the idea that H-1B visa holder can’t replace a U.S. worker.

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