San Diegans may be locked out of thousands of high-paying jobs

Posted at 5:51 PM, Jul 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-20 20:51:59-04

People from other countries are filling thousands of high-paying jobs in San Diego, but there are new efforts to bring some of those paychecks back to locals.

Christian McFarland could wind up with one of those sought-after, high-paying jobs. He just retrained to learn multiple computer languages, and he is ready to hit the job market.

"Staying up late, drinking lots of coffee, just reading and reading," he said. "I would love to stay in San Diego."

Two local congressmen say it's harder than it has to be for those looking for work. They say companies are exploiting a government visa program that allows them to bring in workers from other countries -- for a lower salary.

Companies are only supposed to use what are called H1-B visas when they can't find qualified workers in the U.S. Last year, about 4,300 jobs in San Diego County were filled by the visas at employers like Qualcomm, Illumina and Intel.

Companies generally have to pay the workers at least $60,000 a year.

Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, with the backing of Democrat Rep. Scott Peters, introduced a bill to raise that wage to $100,000. They say that would encourage employers to look locally.

Not all San Diegans, however, are on board.

Derek Barclay just hired two people from Mexico on the H1-B visa for his startup called Loan Hero. He said the bill could hurt other startups trying to grow.

"They're very concerned about cash," he said. "You need to conserve cash before you have to go and raise more money, so you're always looking to bring on talent at a lower cost than what they could get at somewhere like Qualcomm."

Congress is currently on recess, but the bill is expected to be taken up when it returns in early September.