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7/13/2006
05:10 PM
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Doing H-1B Math, In Dollars And Sense

Foreign tech workers who enter the U.S. with H-1B visas are paid about $25,000 a year less than American workers with the same skills, according to the Programmers Guild, an advocate organization for U.S. tech professionals. And the guild's president, Kim Berry, is hoping that Congress will "correct" current wage rules that are supposed to keep the pay playing field level between American professionals and H-1B visa holders, but aren't. Current regulations have loopholes that allow employers

Foreign tech workers who enter the U.S. with H-1B visas are paid about $25,000 a year less than American workers with the same skills, according to the Programmers Guild, an advocate organization for U.S. tech professionals.

And the guild's president, Kim Berry, is hoping that Congress will "correct" current wage rules that are supposed to keep the pay playing field level between American professionals and H-1B visa holders, but aren't.

Current regulations have loopholes that allow employers to hire H-1B workers at wages 25% or more lower than Americans earn for the same jobs, says Berry. And that's one of the big factors that make hiring H-1B workers so attractive, he says.The guild's analysis is based on evaluating the U.S. Dept. of Labor's "prevailing wage" schedules for occupations versus the wages employers cite in their Labor Condition Applications, which employers must submit when seeking H-1B workers.

The analysis shows that many employers pay thousands of dollars less for H-1B workers compared to the "median" pay of Americans doing those jobs.

For instance, while the Dept. of Labor has four pay levels considered "prevailing wages" for programmers in San Jose, Calif., employers can get away with paying H-1B workers the lowest wage level by watering down the position's required skills, education, experience, etc., says Berry.

More specifically, in San Jose, the Dept. of Labor's four levels of "prevailing wages" for programmers are $57,762 for level one; $72,800 for level two; $87,838 for level 3; and $102,877 for level four. The four different levels are based on skills, years of experience, education, and a few other things.

So for instance, the loopholes in these rules allow employers to hire foreign workers with PhDs in jobs paying the lowest wages as long as the position's job description doesn't require an advanced degree or "more than average experience," says Berry.

The guild wants Congress to close these pay loopholes in any H-1B (or more comprehensive immigration) reform bill that gets passed. Congress should redefine the lowest "prevailing wage" level for H-1B workers to be the "median" pay level U.S. workers earn in an occupation.

For employers in San Jose, that would mean paying an H-1B programmer a minimum of $83,500 annually--which is the median wage earned by American programmers in that occupation in that city--instead of finagling to pay only $57,762, the lowest wage allowed today. That would make employers think twice about whether they really "need" twice as many H-1B tech workers allowed into the U.S. each year, he says.

"It would be a miracle" if this sort of pay reform gets passed by Congress, admits Berry. But he thinks it's worth a shot.

What do you think?

If Congress raises the number of H-1B workers allowed into the U.S. every year, should Congress also recalculate the pay rules for foreign tech workers?

What other math lessons should Congress take?

Let us know how you feel.

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