If it is “Foreign Talent” for Singapore it is “High-Skilled” workers for the U.S. Both, to me, are jarring expressions as most imports into the two countries can hardly be dubbed “talent” or “high skilled”.
They just fulfil the different objectives of the two countries – boosting population for one and meeting mostly entry-level programming requirements for the other. Of course, they also help address some of their STEM and PMET requirements. But I am not talking about exceptions here.
Cracks in the System
It is the H-1B visa programme in the U.S. that carries the high-skilled foreigners’ tag. The administration led by President Donald Trump is considering plans to give the H-1B system an overhaul to ensure that only those with sound qualifications are granted those visas.
Currently, it is a lottery system that decides who gets the 65,000 H-1B visas each year with 20,000 more set aside for those with Master’s degrees from American universities.
The H-1B gaps that have become the talking point are many but key among them are:
- 80% of those holding the H-1B visa have only bachelor’s degrees and even these are hardly from universities or institutions of repute. The argument against this is that those with mere preliminary degrees cannot be allowed to displace equally qualified Americans.
- Since this is decided upon through a lottery, the deserving and the well-qualified ones may miss the cut.
- Another equally compelling argument is that the H-1B visas merely meet the cheap labour needs of American companies.
- To address this gap, a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in January this year, proposing doubling of the minimum annual salary to US$130,000 to qualify for the H-1B visa. But that appears to have been aimed at only those companies that depend heavily on H-1B visas – more than 15% of its total workforce.
There is heavy lobbying against any changes to the H-1B programme, particularly from Indian leaders and American technology companies.
An Indian government delegation even recently visited the U.S. to present a business case for the H-1B system to stay.
The administration appears to have indicated to them that H-1B reform is not a priority for the U.S.
It is possible the H-1B system will escape a transformation as the Trump administration has other priorities to tackle – travel ban, illegal aliens, Mexico wall, China, Russia and so forth.
G Joslin Vethakumar