I believe as a nation we are much stronger with substantial immigration. Those who have the drive and initiative to move to a new country typically have a strong work ethic and help make this nation become stronger as a whole, and their children typically maintain that ethic and drive.

H-1B Visas are different. They are for special skills workers only, typically high end technology. Those with the skills are wooed and recruited by employment agencies, brought to the US by these agencies, and then placed with high tech companies. On the one hand we want people with these skills to be in the US, doing work for American companies. On the other hand we’re not offering citizenship, just work rights. Also, these are educated people but not necessarily self-starters with an ingrained work ethic who would have come to the US on their own, and the H-1B system even precludes them from doing their own start-ups in the US.

The political pendulum has swung away from letting anyone into this country, affecting unskilled, skilled, and H-1B visa applicants. So much so that there is now a lottery for H-1B applicants. This has pissed off high tech firms, ostensibly on the grounds that they can’t plan on growth if they can’t reliably plan on new hires.

So, here’s the three part plan:

  • Ditch the lottery and turn it into an auction. Companies like Microsoft that demand a certain number of fresh bodies can obtain them, it just will cost more when the mandated maximum supply is low.
  • Have the proceeds of the auction go to unemployment benefits and job retraining. Having outside employment contribute directly to those most annoyed at immigration should soften the blow.
  • Have the number of H-1B visas tied to the unemployment rate. When there is a tight supply due to a high unemployment rate, the monies raised for unemployment benefits will be greater. This doesn’t fix the outsourcing unskilled labor part of the problem but is a step and an important symbolic link.
  • Finally, there should be a substantial fee that goes directly to working through the backlog of citizenship applications. This benefits immigrants in general, not just the H-1B applicants.

Too much of H-1B visa reform has been about giving corporations an easier supply of cheap high-end workers (although the corporate lobbyist spin uses slightly different words). I don’t want to harm the H-1B system, but any reform needs to take into account domestic unemployment and immigration. Otherwise it isn’t “reform”, its just a special interest perk.