Aliens Are Working in the Professions

By Wayne Lutton
Published in The Social Contract
Volume 3, Number 2 (Winter 1992-1993)
Issue theme: "The role of the churches in population growth, immigration and the environment"

Thanks to curious loopholes in our immigration laws, foreign nationals are legally able to hold professional positions in the United States, which has the effect of displacing American citizens. At a time when white collar workers are joining the legions of the unemployed, thousands of aliens are taking jobs in health care, engineering, the sciences, and education.

Employers often prefer to hire noncitizens because they will frequently work for less than what the prevailing American pay scale is in various professions. Aliens can legally work here if their employer petitions the Department of Labor and certifies that they are 'persons of distinguished merit and ability' temporarily employed to perform services of 'an exceptional nature.'

In practice, the Labor Department rarely checks to confirm whether or not the company is making a valid request. Once the paperwork has been pro-cessed, the alien employee receives an H-1 or L-1 visa, entitling the individual to work at a particular position for as long as five years. H-1 visas go to aliens of 'distinguished merit and ability', while L-1 visas are for nonimmigrants employed by an inter-national firm to work in its U.S. offices.

Standards of what constitutes 'outstanding merit' and relevant 'experience' have largely been left for employers to decide. Most often, the people hired over American citizens are average people with very average levels of education, ability, and work habits, willing to accept lower salaries, as well as different insurance and pension benefits than their American counterparts.

At the request of the Subcommittee on Immigra-tion and Refugee Affairs of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the United States General Accounting Office analyzed the employment patterns of thousands of temporary, nonimmigrant alien workers between 1984 and 1989. The GAO also surveyed 1,825 companies located in the northern United States that had petitioned the INS for H-1 or L-1 visas between October 1988 and March 1990. Additional national-level data on nonimmigrant and immigrant workers was studied.

During FY 1989, 7 percent of the nonimmigrant visas authorized aliens to work here - 478,000 individuals. The GAO study confirms what many critics have charged, namely, that thousands of permanent jobs in the U.S. are being filled by a succession of skilled temporary alien workers in such fields as engineering and science. In health care, 85 percent of temporary alien workers, mostly nurses, occupy positions intended to be permanent.

Appendix IV of this report includes a remarkable letter from the Department of Justice. The Assistant Attorney General for Administration admits that under provisions of the revised 1990 Immigration Act,

the law requires only that H-1 and L-1 nonimmigrants, brought into the U.S. to fill jobs, be admitted for temporary time periods. It does not prohibit the hiring of such persons to permanent positions, nor does it prohibit the employment of successive H-1 or L-1 nonimmigrant aliens to the same permanent positions. In fact, the law was specifically amended to permit H-1 nonimmigrants to fill permanent positions.

The findings of the GAO raise further doubts that the U.S. economy requires the services of growing numbers of immigrants. The vast majority of the current immigrant supply should be able to be substituted in the workplace with native-born labor. Our first concern as a nation should be to help provide employment opportunities for American citizens. ;

[See, U.S. General Accounting Office, Immigration and the Labor Market Nonimmigrant Alien Workers in the United States. GAO/PEMD-92-17, April 28, 1992, 96 pp. One free copy of this GAO report may be ordered from U.S. General Accounting Office, P. O. Box 6015, Gaithersburg, MD 20877, or by calling (202) 275-6241.]

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