Americans Don't Want Hard Cap on Foreign Workers

United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll finds support for forcing companies to prove they can't find qualified Americans.

Almost half of Americans say the country should hold steady the number of high-skilled foreign workers eligible to live and work in the country, and another quarter support lowering the number, according to the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll.

But a large majority said the current pre-set cap on visas for high-skilled workers was not the best method for regulating the U.S. immigration system, with many respondents instead favoring a system that forces companies to prove they cannot find a qualified American worker before hiring from abroad.

Among the poll's findings:

  • 47 percent of respondents said the U.S. should keep its levels of high-skilled foreign workers about the same.
  • 24 percent said the country should lower the number of workers eligible to live and work here.
  • 22 percent favored increasing the number of visas for high-skilled workers.
  • 18 percent of those polled said the current system -- "a hard cap or strict limit on the number of high-skilled immigrants who could be hired" -- was the best way for the country to regulate high-skilled immigration.

Currently, H-1B visas for high-skilled foreign workers are limited at 85,000 per year (including 20,000 for foreign-born advanced degree-holders from American universities), and they were all filled in less than a week during 2013's application period. The immigration-reform legislation the Senate passed Thursday would raise that cap to 115,000 per year and then adjust it using a formula based on demand each year.

Raising the number of high-skilled visas has been a major goal in the current reform effort, prompting heavy lobbying by Silicon Valley for a larger supply of foreign workers.

A majority -- 60 percent -- of the poll respondents agreed that "requiring companies to prove they could not find an American worker for the job" was the best method for regulating high-skilled immigration. Another 19 percent preferred a limit "tied to the national unemployment rate."

Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, offered an amendment to the Senate immigration bill that would require companies to give preference to "equally- or better-qualified" American workers over foreign applicants, but their language never came up for a vote. They were trying to reinstate some restrictions on hiring H-1B visa-holders that were softened while the bill was in committee.

Twenty-nine percent of poll respondents said the country should admit as many foreign workers as companies want to hire, while 61 percent said there should be restrictions.

The Congressional Connection Poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from June 20 to 23. It surveyed 1,005 adults by landline and cell phone and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.