That's how people seemed to react to the H-1B visa program hitting its cap a mere week after petitions were opened.
The H-1B lets U.S companies bring in immigrants with special skills, and should serve as a leading indicator that U.S. companies want to lift all their boats. But in a time of anemic job growth, people question whether we need immigrants with special skills.
[ Is the U.S. talent pool really that dangerously shallow? Read IT Talent Shortage Or Purple Squirrel Hunt? ]
John Miano, who founded the Programmers Guild and now is a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, wrote me in an email that "the economy is in the toilet. Job creation sucks. Yet the H-1B cap gets hit." Miano's not against talented immigrants coming to the U.S., but thinks they can cost talented Americans their jobs. Although the tech industry is the most aggressive lobby in favor of the H-1B, Miano documented that in 2011 we hit the H-1B cap despite substantial net job losses in the computer science, engineering and scientific fields.
Besides evidence of unemployed American tech workers who might be losing out to this program, there's also evidence that the typical H-1B recipient isn't particularly talented. Other numbers show wages as a share of U.S. gross domestic product are at the lowest they've been since the Great Depression, as is the percentage of Americans working, despite record corporate profits.
Those are ugly economic numbers. We humans expect they'll continue, a phenomenon called recency bias, which makes them extra scary. Fear drives a lot of the heat around the H-1B.
That heat will almost certainly forge a new H-1B system in the current push for immigration reform on Capitol Hill.
How many jobs are we talking about? There are only 85,000 H-1B visas issued each year. Of those, 20,000 go to newly minted holders of advanced degrees from U.S. universities, presumably the best and brightest of immigrants. We want these 20,000 people here, although they should get green cards, not H-1Bs.
Of the other 65,000, more than half the jobs given to H-1B workers go to not-so-high-tech jobs, such as pharmacist, architect and nurse. So let's say on average 45% of H-1Bs go to high-tech workers. That's 29,250 a year. An H-1B holder can stay in the U.S. for three years, plus up to three more if extensions are requested and granted. If every high-tech H-1B visa holder stayed for six years, that'd be a rolling average of 175,500 jobs a year.
One hundred and seventy-five thousand jobs doesn't even make a good monthly jobs report.