Bloomberg News hosted a round table last week of business leaders and academia to discuss, in addition to many other topics, how they could get more foreign workers to the United States. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor made an appearance at the panel and his statement to the group sounded off some alarms. Rep. Cantor said he sympathized with their concerns and, through his leadership position in Congress, would work to find ways to increase the number of available foreign workers.
Given Rep. Cantor's history on increasing foreign workers, his statement wasn't a surprise (he has earned an F-minus in the foreign workers category on our grade cards). Still, most of his poor actions were taken prior to the current recession. So it begs the question, why would Rep. Cantor call for more foreign workers in a time of high unemployment?
Here's what Rep. Cantor said…
We have an alarming rate of exodus, if you will, of foreign nationals in this country who come here to attend your universities and then find it too difficult to stay here … We intend to try and address that.
Too difficult to stay here? Really Congressman Cantor?
Since he's the one who threw out the phrase "attend your universities", lets take a look at the work opportunities for foreign nationals who want to earn a degree in the United States.
The F-1 visa is issued by the U.S. State Department to an unlimited number of foreign nationals interested in getting a college degree in the U.S. (The State Department also issues F-2 visas to spouses and children of F-1 recipients and F-3 visas to nationals from Mexico or Canada who wish to commute to a U.S. college or university.)
In 2009, the U.S. admitted 895,392 foreign nationals on F-1 visas according to the DHS Yearbook of Immigration Statistics. Applicants need to meet a few requirements, including maintaining a residence abroad with no intention of abandoning their home country, intending to leave the U.S. after graduation, and possessing funds to pay for their education and support themselves while in the U.S.
The nearly 900,000 F-1 visas issued in 2009 were a 10-year high. The 10-year low was in 2004 when only 613,221 F-1 visas were issued; that's a 46% increase in F-1 admissions over the past 5 years!
Working in the US
While F-1 visa holders can't work in their first year of academic study, they can apply for Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) in their second year of studies. Under pre-OPT, students can get a job off campus (competing with unemployed American workers) in their field of study with a company that uses E-Verify. In April 2008, the Bush Administration approved Post-Completion Optional Practical Training for up to 29 months.
So, while Rep. Cantor says "foreign nationals … find it too difficult to stay here", in reality F-1 visa holders who graduate with degrees in one of 300 different Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields could have more than 2 years after graduation to work in the United States. What's so difficult about that?
Then, if a company that hires a foreign national wants them to continue their employment, the employer can apply for an H-1B visa on their behalf, allowing them to stay in the United States for at least another 3 years. Because it may take a few months or even up to 2 years to obtain an H-1B visa, the Obama Administration has approved a cap-gap policy that allows the former student to stay and work in the United States after their F-1 visa expires, but before their H-1B starts.
Here's what USCIS's website says about the process:
This extension of the OPT period for STEM degree holders gives U.S. employers two chances to recruit these highly desirable graduates through the H-1B process, as the extension is long enough to allow for H-1B petitions to be filed in two successive fiscal years.
H-1B visas are capped at 65,000 per year with another 20,000 for foreign nationals who received at least a master's degree or higher from a U.S. college or university. But as of September, USCIS had only received 32,000 H-1B applications for 2012 (the application process started in April).
Overall, the process to work in the U.S. after graduation is so simple and straightforward, any highly-skilled foreign student (or Member of Congress) should be able to figure it out by using a few Google searches.
ICE estimates that there are 70,000 F-1 visa holders currently taking advantage of the post-OPT program with 23,000 working in STEM fields.
Through the the Post-OPT program and all the other non-immigrant worker visa programs, David North at the Center for Immigration Studies estimates that there are 1 million skilled foreign workers in the United States at any given time. (There are currently 2.1 million unemployed Americans with at least a bachelor's degree.) Also, according to North's research, there are 10 million Americans with at least a bachelor's degree in STEM fields who are not working in STEM -- some for their own reasons, but many others who have been displaced by cheaper and younger foreign workers.
As the third most powerful Republican in Congress, who repeatedly says his top priority is getting America back to work, Rep. Cantor doesn't appear to be too concerned with the millions of skilled Americans who can't find a job. Maybe he should focus his attention on passing Chairman Smith's H.R.2885 - The Legal Workforce Act - that will help open up millions of jobs held by illegal aliens instead of focusing on how to bring in more foreign workers.
CHRIS CHMIELENSKI is the Director of Content & Activism for NumbersUSA
Updated: Wed, Oct 12th 2011 @ 11:15am EDT