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Immigration, NAFTA changes could muddle technology community, Arizona economy


There has been a significant shake-up in international trade and foreign policy since President Trump took office. The economic implications of President Trump’s trade and foreign policy shifts could be disruptive to the technology community and to Arizona’s economy. Among the top issues to watch will be the modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and immigration reform, particularly as it relates to visas for the high-skilled workers needed to support the technology sector.


Steve Zylstra

I recently flew to Washington D.C. with my TECNA/CompTIA colleagues and fellow Arizona technology community representatives to speak with our state’s congressional delegation. Among the topics of discussion were H-1B visas, NAFTA modernization and the United States pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. We all expressed concern regarding the status of high-skilled immigration reform under the Trump administration. However, we are hopeful that an update of NAFTA could strengthen and modernize the trade agreement significantly if handled properly.

H-1B visas are incredibly important to the competitiveness and growth of U.S. technology companies. In Arizona, and across the country, there is a shortage of workers with the necessary science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills and education to fill critical technology positions. Our goal for some time has been to double the number of available H-1B visas for high-tech jobs, but there is concern that the Trump administration will restrict them.

With a large demand for a workforce with strong STEM skills, a lack of STEM interest and education in the United States and a reduction in H-1B visas, the Arizona technology community fears that many companies could be forced to outsource work. This is a problem for Arizona because it will negatively affect our economy, as many technology companies could be forced to move key projects out of the United States.

Of course, part of the problem is that some of the best and brightest from around the world also come to the U.S. to be educated.  What we want is to keep those highly talented students in the U.S., working for our companies, contributing to our economy and intellectual base, and moving toward productive citizenship.

The other topic of interest during the trip was the NAFTA agreement signed by Canada, Mexico, and the United States in 1994, creating a trilateral trade bloc in North America. The agreement is now over 20 years old and could be much improved by an update that incorporates important new benefits and protections, particularly for the tech sector.

Additionally, President Trump has already pulled the United States out of the TPP, but there were elements secured in the TPP establishing digital economy obligations that should be included in an updated NAFTA agreement.

These elements include ensuring a free and open internet, prohibiting customs duties on digital products (e.g., software, music, video, e-books), ensuring non-discriminatory treatment of digital products transmitted electronically, and guaranteeing the free flow of information through cross-border data flows.

Finally, NAFTA does not currently address data transfer and storage, as it was originally written and signed when these concerns did not exist. Renegotiations could adopt data storage and transfer regulations that help protect the storage and privacy of company data.

The issues and concerns above are significant to the technology community, but there are other bipartisan issues that affect us all, and Arizona’s economy. As a member of the Arizona District Export Council and its Trade Policy Committee, I was fortunate to help plan and attend a recent meeting that featured a bipartisan panel of five Arizona congressional delegation members and six industry leaders. The panel was focused on trade.

While there were differences in opinions, there was clear consensus regarding the importance of international trade to the Arizona economy and it started a healthy discussion about border taxes and tariffs, immigration and the importance of H-1B visas.

Our trip to Washington D.C. was a success because the technology community in Arizona and around the nation made our voices heard. The prosperity of the technology community and the local economy is the goal of the Arizona Technology Council, and the decisions on international trade and H-1B visas are critical to that success. We are encouraged by an open dialogue on the issues, and we will continue working to ensure that the Arizona technology community’s voice is heard.

— Steven Zylstra is president and CEO of Arizona Technology Council.


The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.



  1. There is no STEM crisis. There is in fact a surplus of US workers for STEM:

    Watch Dan Rather’s Doc: No Thanks For Everything
    The STEM Crisis is a Myth: An Ongoing Discussion
    Throughout the month of September, we’ll provide continuing coverage and debate
    The Effects of High-Skilled Immigration Policy on Firms: Evidence from H-1B Visa Lotteries
    H-1B Visas Do Not Create Jobs or Improve Conditions for U.S. Workers

    The immigration attorneys from Cohen & Grigsby explain how they assist employers in running classified ads with the goal of NOT finding any qualified applicants, and the steps they go through to disqualify even the most qualified Americans in order to secure green cards for H-1b workers.

    On May 2, 2008 a civil court judge sided with the Programmers Guild in their complaint against a Pittsburgh computer consulting company and ordered it to pay $45,000 in penalties for discriminating against legal US residents by advertising only for developers on H-1B visas. The case was brought against iGate Mastech for placing an advertisement for thirty computer programmers in 2006 “that expressly favored H-1B visa holders to the exclusion of US citizens, lawful permanent citizens and other legal US workers” according to the US Department of Justice.[8]
    Obama Prepares Give-Away of White-Collar Jobs And Citizenship To Foreign Graduates

    Obama just expanded definitions of “specialized knowledge” and no rule to hire US workers first leads to even more abuse of the L1-B Visas

    Here’s where Job Brokers abuse the H1B Visas, provide fake job histories and resumes, provide bogus training:

  2. The Government Accountability Office put out a report on the H-1B visa that discusses at some length the fact that the vast majority of H-1B workers are hired into entry-level positions. In fact, most are at “Level I”, which is officially defined by the Dept. of Labor as those who have a “basic understanding of duties and perform routine tasks requiring limited judgment”. Moreover, the GAO found that a mere 6% of H-1B workers are at “Level IV”, which is officially defined by the US Dept. of Labor as those who are “fully competent” [1]. This belies the industry lobbyists’ claims that H-1B workers are hired because they’re experts that can’t be found among the U.S. workforce.

    So this means one of two things: either companies are looking for entry-level workers (in which case, their rhetoric about needing “the best and brightest” is meaningless), or they’re looking for more experienced workers but only paying them at the Level I, entry-level pay scale. In my opinion, companies are using the H-1B visa to engage in legalized age discrimination, as the vast majority of H-1B workers are under the age of 35 [2], especially those at the Level I and Level II

    Any way you slice it, it amounts to H-1B visa abuse, all facilitated and with the blessings of the US government.

    The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has never shown a sharp upward trend of Computer Science graduate starting salaries, which would indicate a labor shortage (remember – the vast majority of H-1B visas are granted for computer-related positions). In fact, according to their survey for Fall 2015, starting salaries for CS grads went down by 4% from the prior year. This is particularly interesting in that salaries overall rose 5.2% [3][4].

    GAO-11-26: H-1B VISA PROGRAM – Reforms Are Needed to Minimize the Risks and Costs of Current Program
    Characteristics of H-1B Specialty Occupation Workers Fiscal Year 2014 Annual Report to Congress October 1, 2013 – September 30, 2014
    NACE Fall 2015 Salary Survey
    NACE Salary Survey – September 2014 Executive Summary

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