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On one of the previous threads about this topic, someone suggested that accepting H1-B applicants in order from higher to lower salaries instead of based on a lottery would clear up a lot of the lottery spots that currently go to the below-market-wage-indentured-servant type shops to be used for more deserving companies and applicants.

Seems like a solid change to me, without an obvious downside. (But I am not an expert and haven’t done any detailed analysis, so maybe this would have negative consequences I’m not anticipating.)

Another change that might be a big improvement, it seems to me, is to let H1-B visa holders more easily change jobs once they’re here, without so much risk or paperwork hoops to jump through. If it were easier for H1-B workers to switch jobs, then abusive employers would have less leverage to exploit them (forced overtime, below-market wages, etc.).

As much as it may sometimes seem like it is, the H1-B isn't a programming or IT visa. It's applicable to a wide range of specialty occupations, across the entire nation. The suggested change would block out virtually all applicants from many other professions.

Regardless of the industry, if the H-1B is designed to allow employers to hire specialists they can't find locally, then a salary-sorted approval process should still be desirable.

Machine shops fighting over top-1% welders with deep materials science knowledge should be no different to software shops fighting over top-1% developers with deep computer science knowledge.

That'd be fine if the applicant pool was first sorted by profession and geography and like compared against like. But how do you decide the distribution of visas across those sub-groups?

For that matter, who picks the number of "how many H1B visas should we have", based on what criteria? Is there research backing up this number? Statistics?

I'd be much more willing to let people decide on their own:


I'm fairly sure that is the US congress and their criteria is how many minority votes they think they can get during an election year.

Because H1B's are about 'minorities'? Doesn't make much sense to me.

The current process has the advantage of being (somewhat) simple, but it clearly gets gamed in ways that lead to far-from-optimal outcomes.

Maybe figuring out a better alternative system would be a bit complicated, but it seems like it should be possible.

The current system isn't simple. The H1B is only one non-immigrant visa category. There's an entire alphabet soup of other categories, and that's not even getting into the permanent resident visas.

I certainly agree that the system could be rationalized, I've got a lot of my own ideas, but most reform in this area must pass through Congress. I've been paying attention to this issue for over a decade and half now, and one thing I've learned is that there isn't much enthusiasm on either side of the political aisle for major changes to the legal immigration system. Every once in a while a strong lobbying group will get a tweak or added numbers to a particular program, but the real political interest is the stock and flow of un- and semi- skilled workers from Mexico and Latin American.


This is a feature and not a bug. If a profession with lower wages has a real shortage then the wages should rise until demand is filled. This can either come from people domestically switching to the newly lucrative career or foreign workers coming in once the salaries are high enough.

That's true, but... well, devil's-advocate time: "So what?"

I mean, if the Foo profession has huge salaries and crowds the Bar profession from getting any foreign workers... Did the nation really need to import those Bar workers that badly in the first place?

Carving out reservations for particular professions/industries is really just a big cake for lobbyists to fight over.

I think the far bigger issue isn't the professions, but the skewing effects of cost-of-living or non-salary compensation, or professions which our economy already doesn't value "appropriately" for some other reason.

Salary is a measure of productivity. Free market rules: to do otherwise is to engage in state planning of the labor market on behalf of employers.

Create separate auction pools, each for a different profession.

The abovementioned comment: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8801046

I'd make one other big change. Move the distribution of visas to a monthly basis instead of annual. Currently the visas for the whole year go very quickly. If they were distributed monthly, and based on pay, you'd have a good idea of what you needed to pay to be competitive and bring in the workers you want and wouldn't need to wait a year if there is someone you really need now.

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