by Ashfaque Ismail

Peak jobless claims refueling demand for ending of H-1B visa program

The H-1B Visa program was started in 1990 with passage of Immigration Act of 1990 under the Presidency of George H W Bush. There are 85,000 H1B Visas available, of which 20,000 are meant for students acquiring post-graduate degrees from universities in the United States.

The United States is staring at the worst ever jobs crisis in its history of establishment of the workforce system. Blame it on the lockdown put in force to keep citizens protected from new coronavirus. The statistics are painful. The number of jobless claims is rising with an alarming rate. And that too in a short span. Now read this. In the six weeks starting March 17 and ending April 30, 2020, over 30 million Americans filed for jobless benefits. This is an alarming figure considering the six weeks’ short period of time. In March, the US pumped in a $2 trillion stimulus package to prop up the economy. This huge funding included several benefits to its population. It also envisaged $1,200 check for individuals and $2,400 check for a husband-and-a-wife as part of coronavirus aid.

30 million jobless claims is 18.6 percent of US labour market

In the last week of March, a record 6.9 million filed for unemployment benefits. Another 3.8 million sought jobless claims in the last week of April, according to the US Labour Department. A report aired on CNN said 30 million and 389 thousand workers went out of the job market in these six weeks. This was a whopping 18.6 percent of America’s labour market beginning March 2020, the broadcast said.

However, the number of people coming up with jobless claims went down from 6.9 million in March-end to 3.8 million in April-end giving some sort of relief to the workforce as well as officials in the labour department. “A number in the low millions may be a relief compared to earlier this month, but it’s objectively a horrifying statistic,” CNN quoted in its broadcast Nick Bunker, director of economic research at the Indeed Hiring Lab. Rising joblessness will weigh on incomes and consumer spending, which is the largest contributor to the economy. Personal incomes fell 2 percent, and personal consumption expenditures dropped 7.5 per cent in March, according to the Commerce Department, the CNN report cited.

Till recently US was adding record number of jobs to its economy

Before this crisis, the United States had been seeing a record rise in the number of new jobs coming to its labour market. In the post-Trump era, America saw on an average 2.5 lakh new jobs coming to the labour market every month. Not far away in January 2020, there were 225,000 jobs that were added to the jobs market. This was much higher than Wall Street estimate of 158,000 jobs for January, CNBC reported then. So, the Trump administration was on cloud nine as it could boast off a resurgent economy churning out more new jobs. President Trump wants more jobs for more local people in the United States. This was evident at a presser with Mohammad Bin Salman in February 2019. The Saudi Crown Prince had pledged over $100 billion investments for the United States. Throughout the press meet, President Trump kept saying, “that means more jobs, more jobs for our people”. This shows his commitment towards creating more jobs for citizens of the United States.

Record jobless claims adding fuel to demand for suspension of H1B visa program

There were 2.4 million more jobless claims recorded in May 2020. This has taken the total number of jobless claims to 36.8 million, according to a report on CNBC that was published on May 21. Millions losing their bread has rejuvenated the demand for suspension of the H1B visa program. However this is just one more factor. The demand has been doing the rounds for the past many years, specially circulated by workers in the information technology (IT) field. American workforce in the IT companies sector allege they are not treated on par with H-1B Visa holders who work in the United States. A large number of them also level allegations that bosses at IT companies discriminate against US workers when it comes to doing out promotions and distributing perks. They say they are overlooked and sidelined at the time of promotions and performance appraisals. Besides, it has been alleged, IT workforce from outside gets more salary than their US counterparts.

‘Buy American Hire American’ has transcended political affiliations

On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump took oath as 45th President of The United States. In his maiden speech, President Trump said American companies should prefer the local workforce to the foreigners. He gave a slogan ‘Buy American Hire American’. Of late, this slogan has resonated with a large number of workforce that thinks outsiders are usurping their jobs.

Abolish H-1B visa program’

Those opposing this visa program have taken it upon themselves to draw the attention of Congressmen. They have started a web portal . A text on its home page reads: The H-1B program is flawed beyond repair. It should be abolished in favor of something smarter. Corporations have no place being immigration middle men. Immigration is about something much more pure and sacrosanct than corporate profits. It needs to be abolished in favor of permanent immigration as opposed to corporate sponsorship. The petitioners say in normal times immigration should be capped at 5 percent of net job gains each year. And when America has job losses, the program should be restricted. This is what the US workforce has been demanding.

H1B Visa holders are easily exploited

The petitioners allege that H-1B Visa holders are exploited in the United States as they are hired in the pretext of acquiring cheap labour. “The reason H-1B visa holders are so easily exploited is because of corporate sponsorship. Green cards in sustainable numbers would make them equal players in the labor market,” the text on the homepage of the above portal says. An H-1B visa amounts to second class labor and corporate sponsorship gives companies leverage against American workers wages and salary. This hurts American workers directly and it hurts us as a nation indirectly, it says.