Bipartisan support for possible H-1B visa program changes
Written by: Alex Curtis | Posted May 4, 2017

And what this means for Tennessee’s tech industry

By Jacel Egan at icitizen

Note from the NTC: From time to time the NTC will include guest posts from our members. The following post on workforce development is timely as changes to the United States’ H-1B visa policy are being considered. It is important that members of the Nashville tech community are aware of the issues and understand how changes may impact their business. icitizen‘s survey helps us to better understand public sentiment on H-1B visas that may end up influencing change in the regulations.

On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people marched at the Capitol on behalf of climate change. That day also marked President Trump’s 100th day in office – preceded by the president’s new tax plan, the possibility of a government shutdown, as well as an executive order to review the H-1B visa program.

According to a new icitizen survey of 1,008 U.S. adults nationwide, a majority (59%) support the H-1B visa program in its current form (37% oppose, 3% unsure), once they were given a full description of the policy, along with both pro and con arguments.

As it stands now, the H-1B visa program allows for a limited number of highly-skilled foreign workers to live and work in the U.S. Visas can be valid for up to six years and are renewable. Foreign workers in the program must also be employed by a sponsoring company while they live in the U.S. Companies using the program are given permission to give visas based on a lottery system.

“The H-1B visa program is a policy that intersects issues of immigration, technology and workforce development,” said icitizen’s Director of Polling, Cynthia Villacis. “Results suggest that unlike many of today’s policies, this issue remains unpolarized.”

Data shows 80% of Americans, however, support changes to the program that would require U.S. employers to first offer a job to a qualified American worker before seeking out a foreign H-1B holder to fill the position (17% oppose, 3% unsure). Support for this reform is consistent along age, gender, race, education and party identification.

What does this mean for technology firms, particularly in Tennessee?

As the state’s technology sector continues to grow, companies may need to start bracing for the implications of these possible changes. Tennessee is one of a number of metropolitan areas that continues to struggle to fill high-level STEM jobs, despite competitive wages and benefits. And outsourcing entry-level tech roles to foreign workers may become much more expensive as well, and would require more education than is necessary under the current regulations. This could add to the challenges companies face when looking to grow the tech industry in the state.

A study released in February from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests the current H-1B visa program actually curbs hiring and lowers wages.

That’s why some groups strongly advocate for immigration reform that raises the minimum salary for “highly skilled” and “well-paid” foreign professionals – to combat the argument of displacing American workers and boosting the economy by increasing wages for everyone.

Polls on issues like this one on H-1B helps us to track public sentiment, better understand the issue, and in the end, provide Middle Tennessee the opportunity to be at the forefront of this issue, especially since data suggests that the public is receptive to reform.

Interested in tech advocacy?  learn more here about NTC’s advocacy work and sign up for updates here.