H-1B Visa Allows Companies to Pay Low Wages by Law
While everyone professes commitment to pay equity and doing away with discrimination, a closer look at the H-1B visa norms reveals a different story. Under the H-1B visa scheme, the US government is approving annual wages for technology immigrant workers at a mere $52,229. This is a paltry amount compared to the annual average of $93,000 in the Santa Clara County of Silicon Valley.
This trend of approving discriminatory low wages for technology professionals from other countries deployed in the US is not an anomaly, but an ongoing norm. Nearly all the major technology providers are leveraging the benefits of lower labor costs by adopting H-1B-based hiring. A major benefactor of this approval process is mainstream product innovator Apple, which has got approvals for hundreds of potential H-1B visa holders for its 1 Infinite Loop headquarters in Cupertino. Apple did not actually “hire” these workers, but put through an application to the government stating that it intended to hire 150 computer programmers beginning June 14 at this wage. This paperwork sets the ground for technology companies to leverage some latitude as far as H-1B decisions are concerned. This means that though Apple may not currently be paying low wages to H-1B workers, it can begin to do so by implementing this new wage norm, with no government regulation. It is a smart way to play around with the system and set the foundation for future wage optimization.
Trump intends to change the current system, which comes across as manipulative. His proposal is based on using wages and education as the key parameters for H-1B visa allocations. It is a brilliant strategy that helps achieve the contrived Trump objective of reducing immigration to the US and saving jobs for American folk. Trump has been quite vocal of the fact that his ultimate goal is to get rid of the H-1B lottery system and to propagate equal wages. This, if achieved, will make it cost-inefficient for technology companies to hire H-1B holders, forcing them to hire locally and forcibly align with the “Make America Great Again” Trump agenda.
There may be some justification in basing H-1B allocations on wage equity, considering that a $52,229 computer programmer wage is an extremely low one in Silicon Valley, where just the home rentals exceed $2,000/month. Trump representatives have been outspoken about how such low wages have been harming the H-1B program and American people, stating that this norm is “violating the principle of the program.” Statistics indicate that an alarming 80% of the visa workers are paid below the occupational mean.
The tech industry, on the other hand, has been raising a hue and cry over the anti-H-1B government campaign. They have been emphasizing that the tech industry needs visa workers to fill the critical skill gap in technology. Some experts disagree and say that if this were true, their worth should be reflected in higher wage levels. Discussions are ongoing and the outcome on H-1B is something we will have to wait and watch out for. There are indications that the Congress may raise the H-1B wage system to 75th percentile of the average wage, making the minimum wage for H-1B holders a significant $123,000—a 132% jump over the current $52,229.
Nothing concrete is known yet. While many see these impending wage revisions as a regressive move to curb mobility, others view it as an effort toward wage transparency and fairness. The Trump government is yet to present its H-1B reform proposal to lawmakers, and we can only wait and watch.