Whenever we write
about H1-B visas, we seem to get attacked by people who confuse the fact that there are some companies who abuse the program with the overall benefit of getting smart, highly educated workers working for American companies -- rather than against them. It certainly fits with economist's Bryan Caplan's theory that many people have specific biases
that blind them to the bigger picture. All four of those biases actually come into play on this issue. The anti-market bias that doesn't recognize the benefits of competition and assumes that protectionism helps an industry, when it actually hurts. The anti-foreign bias that obviously comes into play when people seem to be against immigrants because they're "not American" even if they help the American economy. The make-work bias that falsely assumes that it's better to have people employed right now than creating an economy that will produce more, better paying jobs in the future. And, finally, the pessimistic bias that assumes that because some foreign workers may take a job from a higher paid American, that we're all going to lose our jobs.
The reality is quite different. Competition is what drives innovation and progress. By having competitors, it pushes companies to continually improve their offerings and serve the market with better and cheaper products. That's a good thing. Protecting an industry is a recipe for killing it, as it simply allows foreign competitors to run circles around the domestic players, killing off the international market and making Americans worse off. Second, having smart, well-educated foreign workers working for US companies, rather than for foreign competition clearly helps the American economy by keeping those companies strong and innovating, rather than getting crushed by foreign competition. Finally, if those American companies can do better and create new desired products, they can create more jobs. Jobs are not a zero-sum game.
Unfortunately, these biases are strong and difficult to fight. Politicians driven by polls too often succumb to them. The latest news is that Congress is against letting in more H1-B workers
, guaranteeing that those workers will instead go to work for foreign companies -- working against
American companies. It's difficult to see how anyone can favor that, but that's the way it is unfortunately. It is true that the H1-B program has been abused by some companies. But the answer isn't to punish the H1-B program, but to punish the abusers.