Temporary Work Visas: Good Economic Policy for Both Temporary Employment and Permanent Immigration

Temporary Work Visas: A good Economic Policy for both Temporary Employment and Permanent Immigration

A recent paper published by an economic think tank asked if L-1 Intracompany transfer work visas and H-1B temporary visas for specialty workers were a means to the end of permanent immigration or just low priced labor. The paper assumes the truth of the premise that the only economic and social value of the L-1 and H-1B worker program is to attract the world’s best minds to permanently immigrate to the United States by holding out the carrot of dual intent visas. The think-tank’s answer to this misguided question is that the L-1 and H-1B visa programs are a source of both permanent immigration and inexpensive labor. However, the true answer to this hypothetical is that neither permanent immigration nor inexpensive labor is the true economic benefit to the United States derived from these temporary work visas. Rather, the economic benefit of these temporary visa programs is an exchange of talent, ideas and mutually beneficial economic opportunity.

The Myth of LPR Status Verses the Guest Worker

The first error of this article is that it attempts to juxtapose legal permanent resident status (LPR or Green Card status) with guest worker status. Legal Permanent Resident Status allows qualified aliens to live and work freely in the United States for a virtually unlimited duration. Becoming an LPR or obtaining a Green Card is the hope and dream of millions of foreign nationals around the world. Many times, obtaining a Green Card is a large step on to the road to naturalization and citizenship.

Guest worker status, by contrast, is non-existent in the United States. There is no provision under the laws of the United States for a “guest worker” visa. There are temporary visas for persons without bachelor’s degrees, both skilled and unskilled, who wish to work temporarily in the United States. However, these visas do not apply to H-1B and L-1 visa beneficiary’s who must provide evidence of obtaining at least the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree before entry. As a result of this misguided comparison, the effect of comparing the very real LPR status with the very mythical “guest-worker’ status has the probative value of comparing an apple to a Sasquatch. Furthermore, there are adverse socioeconomic, political and xenophobic connotations that are encompassed within the term “guest worker” where it has been previously used in Europe.

Citing a Sixty Minutes television story from seventeen-years ago, the article proceeds to paint a picture of college-educated aliens being held in servitude under squalled conditions. Any complaint could mean being fired, with the accompanying loss of visa status culminating in deportation. The grand majority of the picture painted by this article is untrue. Most L-1 and H-1B workers live in middle-class housing in good neighborhoods. Additionally, H-1B employers who release their employees for less than straightforward purposes are obligated to pay for the employee’s travel expenses home. These temporary visa programs provide a good standard of living for the foreign nationals involved.

The Myth of H-1B and L-1 Visas as an Avenue to Immigration Verses Fleeting Employment

Citing misleading percentages and deriving congressional intent from a campaign advisor to John McCain, the article paints a picture of the failure of the temporary visa programs because so many participants never receive Green Card status. However, when attention is focused on the realities of the arduous bureaucratic journey between temporary worker and LPR status, it is a wonder that as many talented temporary workers eventually obtain a Green Card as actually do.

Here is a short explanation of the bureaucratic gauntlet that must be run before an Alien may obtain an employment-based Green Card. The petition for H-1B and L-1 visa workers must be almost entirely paid for by the employer. The cost to apply to the Federal Government for such a visa is usually in the thousands of dollars, excluding attorney’s fees. There is a possibility that the initial petition is approved, denied or the government can request more evidence (RFE) to support the petition. Responding to an RFE costs the company even more time and money. If approved, the company gets to bring the worker over if the company pays the worker the prevailing wage. Today’s prevailing wage as determined by the Department of Labor is essentially as high and usually higher than what any American in their right mind could afford to turn down in this struggling economy.

A worker awarded an H-1B or L-1 visa can apply for a Green Card after enduring the tag-team and up to eight-year wrestling match for Labor Certification called the PERM process. Under this process, the Department of Labor and the USCIS team up to look for any technical deficiency in an Alien’s Green Card application. The PERM process requires the employer to advertise the job opening in newspapers, the internet and to its own employees before offering the job to the Alien. If approved by the DOL, the alien is able to apply for a Green Card before the USCIS, who then double checks the alien’s attestations made in the PERM process. If approved at this stage, the average bachelor’s degree-holding H-1B and L-1 applicant waits an additional eight years until a visa is made available to him or her. Because of all of the obstacles placed between an H-1B or L-1 visa holder and LPR status, many employers and aliens never get around to, try and fail, or lose interest in obtaining LPR status.

Finally, the article complains that O-1 visa holders, for aliens with outstanding abilities, make up so few of the eventual LPRs. The reason for the small number is because not many O-1 visas are given out in the first place. It is in fact very difficult to live up to the qualifications needed for any visa that is available for aliens with extraordinary abilities. Therefore, the process between temporary worker and Green Card holder has the effect of blocking as many talented aliens from Green Card status as possible, a difficult burden to overcome.

The Myth that Temporary Work is Bad for America

The usual logic of arguments detracting from the temporary work visas is that aliens are taking money and jobs from American workers. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. H-1B and L-1 workers provide more jobs, more tax revenue and more academic capital than what this article gives credit for. Many H-1B and L-1 workers provide the necessary skills to technology firms which in turn provide the computing services that our economy needs. There are millions if not billions of computer operating systems in America today that affect every business and social function of our daily lives. America does not have enough technology workers to keep all of these systems functioning. Major American firms have been utilizing technology firms of all sizes for years in an attempt to fill this needed void. Additionally, most colleges and universities use the H-1B program to employ the greatest minds in the world for their research functions. These are just two examples of where highly qualified aliens aid our economy of temporary worker status. There are many fields of endeavor eligible for the H-1B and L-1 programs, touching Americans daily in a variety of positive ways.


Before blame for the county’s economic predicament can be placed on H-1B and L-1 workers, all of the positives and negatives should be analyzed fairly. Most of Americans who are currently unemployed are not in the technology or academic fields, the fields most filled by H-1B and L-1 workers. While the H-1B and L-1 programs are hardly perfect, they do have an overall positive economic effect on this country. This positive effect is much more than merely capturing the world’s top talent as premised in the paper published by the recent paper from the think tank. It is a mutually beneficial exchange of ideas, skills and even culture with the rest of the world.

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