Keeping Our Promises to American Workers

May 7, 2017
Opinion Editorial
Hazleton Standard Speaker

By Rep. Lou Barletta

Over the past four months, I have been working with President Donald J. Trump to deliver on his pledge to help the American worker.  His “Buy American, Hire American” executive order is a prime example of how he is keeping his promises to put America first.

The order overhauls our H-1B visa program, which American companies have used to hire cheap, foreign labor at the expense of American workers and wages.  I fully support President Trump’s efforts to crack down on fraud and abuse in the H-1B visa program.  For over a decade, I have argued that securing our borders and fixing our broken immigration system will create greater economic opportunities for American workers.  This executive order will help to ensure that we are not slamming the door in the faces of our sons and daughters by allowing companies to hire cheap, foreign labor.

I often hear that American companies rely on the H-1B visa program to hire foreign workers because they cannot find qualified American workers.  I don’t buy that argument.  Businesses commonly use the H-1B visa program to hire foreign workers for less wages than they would have to pay qualified American workers.  We should not be telling our kids that they are not smart enough for high-tech jobs, simply because employers want to cut costs at their expense.

The H-1B visa program admits 65,000 foreign workers and 20,000 foreign graduate students to the United States.  Currently, however, H-1B visas are awarded by random lottery, not by merit.  The result is that many companies use the H-1B program to pay foreign workers less-than-average wages, which depresses the wages of American workers.  For instance, while the median wage of software engineers in the United States is around $102,000, the Trump Administration pointed out that Tata, Infosys, and Cognizant – companies which apply for a large number of H-1B visas – pay their workers an average salary between $60,000 and $65,000.

60 Minutes recently put human faces to this issue.  The segment, “You’re Fired,” detailed how American workers, like telecom engineer Robert Harrison and IT professional Craig Diangelo, were replaced with less-skilled foreign employees who entered the United States on H-1B visas.  Adding insult to injury, Harrison and Diangelo were forced to train their lower-paid replacements in order to receive severance pay.

We have immigration laws in this country for two basic reasons: to preserve American jobs and to protect national security.  Yet, for decades, politicians in Washington have supported an immigration system that benefits foreign workers at the expense of American workers.

Fortunately, we finally have a president willing to stand up for the American worker.  The president’s executive order will strengthen the H-1B visa program to prevent future abuses and level the playing field for our sons and daughters who wish to compete for good-paying jobs.  

I am not convinced that Americans are unqualified for the jobs that are available in today’s economy.  But, if that is truly the case, then we should do more to prepare our citizens for in-demand jobs, rather than leaving them behind.  If we want to truly compete in the world economy and maintain our position as a global leader, then our workforce must be able to set the pace.

I worked to update our nation’s workforce training programs as part of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins Act) reauthorization.  Passed in 1984, the Perkins Act is the primary funding source for secondary and postsecondary career and technical education programs.  However, because the law has not been updated in more than a decade, it no longer reflects the realities and challenges facing students and workers.  The reauthorization gives businesses a seat at the table when states develop career and technical education plans.  This would make it easier for educators to identify in-demand skills and connect students with the opportunities to develop them.

The Perkins Act reauthorization passed the House on June 22, 2017 and is awaiting action by the Senate.

We have a high octane president who is working quickly to keep his promises to the American worker.  “Buy American, Hire American” shows the president’s commitment to putting Americans first.  Congress needs to keep pace.  With a strong leader in the White House, it is time for members of both parties to come together to support good-paying jobs at home and help those in need of training get a leg up.

​Note: This editorial has been updated to reflect that the House passed the Perkins Act reauthorization on June 22, 2017.

​Lou Barletta is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives.