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September 1999, Volume 6, Number 9

Labor Market: H-1Bs, Day Labor

H-1Bs. Bills have been introduced in Congress to raise the annual cap on the number of H-1B visas, now 115,000, to 200,000 a year until 2003, when the limit would revert to 65,000 a year and place some categories of foreigners outside it. A House Immigration subcommittee heard conflicting testimony on August 5, 1999. For more information:

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced the BRAIN (Bringing Resources from Academia for the Industry of our Nation) Act, H.R. 2687, to allow foreigners with F or J visas who complete college degrees in science and engineering in the US to receive five-year T-work visas if their US employers paid them $60,000 a year or more. There would be no numerical limit on the number of T-visas granted; Lofgren said that 60 percent of those waiting in the US forH-1B visas are for foreign students at American universities with US job offers.

Lofgren says that it is "dysfunctional that we would bring over to the United States these hot-shot students, have them get wonderful degrees in American universities, and then force them to go to some foreign country to compete with us." Employers who hire workers with T-visas would have to pay a $1,000 filing fee per visa, which would go to a "high-tech academic trust fund."

Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) introduced the New Workers for Economic Growth Act, S.1440, which would raise the annual quota on H-1B visas to 200,000 a year and exempt from the cap foreigners with a master's degree who would be paid at least $60,000 a year, as well as foreigners with a BS degree employed in the US by institutions of higher education.

A study published in Science in August 1999 concluded that many of the best US scientists and engineers are immigrants. Examining the origins of 4,500 scientists who are members of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering or had frequently cited research articles, the article concluded that the percentage of distinguished scientists and engineers born abroad had risen from 25 in 1980 to 60 percent by 1990 in one subfield.

Day Labor. Most California cities have day labor markets located on street corners or in parking lots of home improvement stores where legal as well as unauthorized workers wait for employers to drive up and offer them jobs. Wages are negotiated on the spot, with many workers demanding and receiving more than the minimum wage of $5.75 an hour. However, most employers do not forward required payroll taxes to authorities and workers have little recourse if an employer refuses to keep his promise to pay them.

Local residents often complain about day laborers, saying that they litter streets and intimidate passers-by. Some cities, including San Francisco, have attempted to regularize the hiring of day laborers, establishing facilities operated by non-profit groups that take the waiting and hiring off the streets. Other cities, such as San Jose, San Mateo, Oakland and Los Altos, have made it unlawful to hire workers from street corners, but have not created alternative hiring sites.

In Farmingville, New York, residents organized into the Sachem Quality of Life Organization to protest the hiring of day laborers. Day laborers, organized by the Workplace Project in Hempstead, staged a counter-demonstration.

An INS spokeswoman said that the INS has not raided day-labor sites looking for unauthorized workers since 1996. Foreign Students. Newsweek reported that there are 40,000 foreign students working in the US in summer 1999, many from Ireland, England, France, Spain and, increasingly, Eastern Europe. The number of temporary young European workers has doubled since 1996, as networks develop to link US employers and students abroad.

Foreign students coming to the US for summer working holidays must be sponsored by an approved US organization. One of the largest sponsors is the Council on International Educational Exchange, which says that "a lot of American kids just don't want these jobs anymore," working in resort hotels and amusement parks. CIEE, which provides insurance for those it sponsors, brought 23,000 foreign students to the US in summer 1999, up from 17,000 in 1998.

Foreign youth enter the US with J-1 "exchange visitor" visas administered by USIA. Under regulations issued April 13, 1999, USIA permits an unlimited number of foreigners to enter the US each year with J-1 visas, but requires their US sponsors to arrange US jobs in advance for at least half of the youth they sponsor; those without pre-arranged jobs must find jobs within one to two weeks. The J-1 youth workers must be post-secondary students abroad and are limited to a maximum stay of four months in the US.

Both Australia and Canada have working holiday visa programs. The Australian program, based on reciprocal programs in Canada, Ireland, Korea, Japan, and the UK, permitted a maximum 55,000 temporary worker-visitors in 1997-98.

Labor Market. In July 1999, nonfarm payroll employment increased by 310,000 and average hourly earnings rose to $13.29. The unemployment rate held steady at 4.3 percent. Six million persons were unemployed and 133 million were employed; some 68 million persons 16 and older were not in the labor force.

About 77 percent of the men 20 years and older were in the labor force, as were 61 percent of the women 20 years and older. By race and ethnicity, 77 percent of white men aged 20 and older were in the labor force, as were 60 percent of white women. For Blacks, labor force participation rates were 72 percent for men and 67 percent for women. Of Hispanics, 67 percent were in the labor force--no gender breakdown was made.

Rana Dogar, "Why your lifeguard may be from Bratislava," Newsweek, August 30, 1999. Emily Gurnon, "On Mission District streets, hundreds of men and women wait each day for an offer of work," San Francisco Examiner, Saturday, August 14, 1999. Levin, Sharon G. and Paula E. Stephan. 1999. Are the Foreign Born a Source of Strength for U.S. Science? Science August 20. 1213-1214.