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Immigration Law

Debate on H-1B and L Visas


Two additions to the debate on whether immigration is a net positive or negative for the United States have come out recently that are worth looking at. Ron Hira of the Economic Policy Institute wrote a paper issued October 14 ( Its title is The H-1B and L-1 Visa Programs: Out of Control. The month before, the Brookings Institute had a conference on immigration. The transcript is available at, and the participants take pretty much the opposite point of view. Perhaps that’s not surprising.


At Brookings, the view was that it’s expensive but necessary to hire noncitizens (whether as nonimmigrants – that is, visitors who will eventually leave the country – or permanent residents). Research was cited on the net gain/loss from immigrants. Keep in mind that calculating is complicated by the facts that (1) people here, or working, when they shouldn’t be usually do not announce those facts, and (2) families contain authorized noncitizens, unauthorized noncitizens, and citizens in all possible combinations. That said, panelists said that net, nationally immigration brings more benefits than costs, but for states and municipalities it costs more than it benefits, though the amounts vary.


On the other hand, Hira argues that L-1 (intracompany transferee) and H-1B (specialty worker) nonimmigrant visa processes need major overhauls. He concludes that L-1 and H-1B workers “are clearly displacing and denying opportunities to U.S. workers.” He lists four key problems: Neither visa requires a test of the labor market for U.S. workers to fill the position; wage requirements are too low for H-1Bs, nonexistent for L-1s; the visas belong to the employer, not the worker, so the employer has leverage to exploit the worker; and oversight and enforcement are inadequate.


What do we get from these two sources? And even more, what can and should be done? If you have suggestions, perhaps you’d like to write an article for Bender’s Immigration Bulletin or an emerging issues analysis for us to post. Think about it!


Molly J. Liskow
Legal Editor, Practice Area Content