Unequal distribution of work visas’ contributes to U.S. labor shortage

Data Visualization by Ifunanya Okoroma for the UCSD Guardian
Data Visualization by Ifunanya Okoroma for the UCSD Guardian

Significant issues with employment and labor are contributing to America’s suffering economy. Currently, there is a shortage of employees in labor fields, in contrast with a saturation in technical fields. Imbalanced regulation of immigrant work visas is only furthering the issue, while solving it could be the key to alleviating the employment crisis. If the U.S. ditched its outdated specialty work-based immigration system and granted green cards to blue-collar workers, it would minimize the problem of “brain drain” in other countries while filling essential working-class roles that remain unoccupied.

The job market is tightening, especially for individuals seeking technology and white-collar positions. Scrolling through LinkedIn, an employment social media platform, it is not uncommon to encounter positions in the technology industry with over 100 applicants, since these jobs are highly sought after and competitive. However, taking a closer look at applicants often reveals that over half of these individuals are not U.S.-based, but rather international applicants hoping for a job in the U.S. and the work visa that comes along with it.

On the other hand, establishments all over the country are struggling to find blue-collar employees to maintain a full staff. Jobs in the service industry have seen shockingly high attrition rates in the past few years. In 2023, there were 30 million job vacancies, with even more in previous years. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, this labor force participation is still lower than pre-pandemic levels and is being referred to as the “Great Resignation.” For service industry positions, there continues to be a large shortage of employees and a high demand that goes unfulfilled. 

The need for these jobs is overwhelming, and tapping into the foreign work market can help fulfill a significant chunk of this demand, especially since the U.S. has a demographic problem with declining birth rates and Social Security is projected to run dry by 2041. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, foreign-born workers were more likely than native-born workers to be employed in service, construction, maintenance, and other similar occupations (22.5% compared with 16.0%).

Under the current immigration regulations, nearly 80% of all green cards are issued via family members or employers. But a disproportionately large amount of these employment-based visas are given out to high-skill workers for jobs in the tech industry. This category of foreign workers are given H1B visas that are meant to fulfill skill gaps in special markets. However, they have simply become a funnel for the tech industry as some form of software developers represent 38% of all H1B occupations. Furthermore, as shown in the graphic, the top occupations granted H1B visas all revolve around technology, which is an industry quickly becoming oversaturated in the domestic labor market. 

Many high-end tech businesses actually prefer these foreign individuals over domestic workers, going so far as to lay off Americans and hire H1Bs. For example, in 2022, the top 30 H1B companies, including big names like Google and Amazon, hired about 30,000 H1B workers while laying off 85,000 workers, the majority of whom were domestic U.S. citizens. The 30,000 H1B employees hired by these companies account for a considerable 40% of the annual cap of 85,000 H1B workers allowed into the United States. As a result, many H1Bs are filling tech positions that could have given domestic citizens high wages and social mobility. These tech corporations often prefer H1Bs over domestic U.S. citizens because they rely on their employers to sponsor them and ensure their green card stays valid – a system resembling pseudo-indentured servitude. Thus, while the original intent of H1B visas was to fill labor shortages in professional fields, it has now simply evolved into a method for the tech industry to outsource labor.

H1B visas tend to select the most successful and intelligent individuals from minority groups. Because they possess naturally profitable skills or credentials such as medical degrees, doctorates, and/or programming prowess, they are able to accumulate more wealth for companies. On the other hand, workers who lack these “specialty” skills and college degrees are rarely granted work visas. It is almost impossible to get a green card while working at a fast food restaurant or a retail store; yet, these are precisely the roles the American economy is lacking. This leads to two problems: a shortage of labor and illegal immigration, the latter being a natural reaction to the unfair and unequal distribution of work visas.

The solution to all this is to provide more work visas to blue-collar workers while cutting back on the distribution of H1Bs. This will prevent an excess of talent and competition in the tech industry and other white-collar employment positions in addition to providing labor for service industry positions. America has historically been a nation built on the work of immigrants, something that has not and will not be changing. It is time to open up work visas to all workers and prioritize those without specialty skills for both their benefit and our own. 

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About the Contributor
Kevin Zhu, Staff Writer
Kevin is a first year Data Science major. He is on par to become the biggest corporate sellout, covering up his actually very artsy inside by presenting himself as a STEM guy. In addition, Kevin also plays 4 instruments, basketball, and is definitely not only 5’7. He likes cliche inspirational quotes and deep movies, so he will quote Camus to end his bio: “In the midst of winter I found within me an invincible summer.”
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    PetraJan 31, 2024 at 6:50 pm

    Amateur article. H-1B visa immigrant workers are the ones that drive the US economy. They are essential and a core part of the war for semiconductors, AI, and robots. It will also decrease international student pools which will have major fiscal and academic reputation impacts on US universities and R&D. Think this article was written without understanding the broader implications and background knowledge of the 4th Industrial Revolution. The US won’t hang on to its lead with decreased H-1B visa pools

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    cnumbJan 30, 2024 at 8:47 am

    There is a flaw in your statement “it has now simply evolved into a method for the tech industry to outsource labor”, when companies give H1B visas to new employees, they hire them full-time to work at their US office. Outsourcing is sending work outside the US or giving to another US company, in both cases employers don’t file H1B.

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