Wages and High-Skilled Immigration: How the Government Calculates Prevailing Wages and Why It Matters

Report Author: 
Amy Marmer Nice
Original Date of Publication: 
December, 2017

The H-1B temporary work classification is an immigration status that allows U.S. employers to hire foreign nationals to work in a "specialty occupation" or a highly skilled position that typically requires a bachelor's degree. An employer applying for an H-1B worker must satisfy the prevailing wage requirement for hiring an immigrant worker, i.e. the new immigrant employee must be paid "wages that are not less than those prevailing in the occupation in the recruitment area, or the employer's actual wage level, whichever is higher."  The wages paid to H-1B workers has long been a point of contention in immigration reform discussions. The report Wages and High Skilled Immigration by the American Immigration Council explains how wage levels are determined by the Department of Labor (DOL) for H-1B wage purposes and describes the history of the H-1B classification from the creation of the H-1 program in 1952 to the current controversy surrounding the program today. The author identifies three general problems with current prevailing wage data: first, the pay ranges are based on very broad data; second, pay ranges are not differentiated by type of employer, e.g. universities, not-for-profit, for-profit; and third, the current system does not reflect the educational level, experience, and supervisory skills of the candidate. The author argues that Congress needs to update the current prevailing wage system and evaluates some of the proposals that have been floated to do so. (Mia Fasano for the Immigrant Learning Center's Public Education Institute)

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Citation: 

Nice, A. (2017). Wages and High-Skilled Immigration: How the Government Calculates Prevailing Wages and Why It Matters (Special Report) (p. 17). Washington, D.C.: American Immigration Council. Retrieved from https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/sites/default/files/research/wages_and_high-skilled_immigration.pdf

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