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Greg Siskind on Immigration Law and Policy

NSF STUDY: FOREIGN SKILLED WORKERS VITAL TO US REMAINING COMPETITIVE

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The National Science Foundation, a US government agency, has released its "Science and Engineering Indicators 2008" report and the NSF has issued a pretty strong warning regarding protectionism in the IT labor market:

The globalization of the S&E [SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING] labor force continues to
increase as the location of S&E employment becomes more
internationally diverse and S&E workers become more internationally
mobile. These trends reinforce each other as R&D
spending and business investment cross national borders in
search of available talent, as talented people cross borders in
search of interesting and lucrative work, and as employers
recruit and move employees internationally. Although these
trends appear most strong in the high-profile international
competition for IT workers, they affect every S&T area.

The rate of growth of the S&E labor force may decline
rapidly over the next decade because of the aging of individuals
with S&E educations, as the number of individuals
with S&E degrees reaching traditional retirement ages is expected
to triple. If this slowdown occurs, the rapid growth in
R&D employment and spending that the United States has
experienced since World War II may not be sustainable.

The growth rate of the S&E labor force would also be
significantly reduced if the United States becomes less successful
in the increasing international competition for immigrant
and temporary nonimmigrant scientists and engineers.
Many countries are actively reducing barriers to high-skilled
immigrants entering their labor markets at the same time that
entry into the United States is becoming somewhat more difficult.
Despite this, many recent statistics suggest that the
United States is still an attractive destination for many foreign
scientists and engineers.

Slowing of the S&E labor force growth would be a fundamental
change for the U.S. economy, possibly affecting
both technological change and economic growth. Some researchers
have raised concerns that other factors may even
accentuate the trend (NSB 2003). Any sustained drop in
S&E degree production would produce not only a slowing
of labor-force growth, but also a long-term decline in the
S&E labor force.

The report had a lot of interesting statistical data on the H-1B program and also compared our numbers to other countries. Surprisingly, we get proportionately fewer highly skilled immigrants than many other countries. Japan, for example, has a reputation for being very insular, but has a lot more skilled immigrants entering than I thought:

In 2003, 268,045 workers entered Japan in high-skilled
temporary visa categories, a 93% increase compared with
1992 (figure 3-57). For comparison purposes, this equals
half of the number of Japanese university graduates entering
the labor force each year and is more than the number
entering the United States in roughly similar categories
(H-1B, L-1, TN, O-1, O-2) (Fuess 2001).

The report tells us something most of us already know - that H-1Bs are super-smart:




In FY 2006, 57% of new H-1B visa

recipients had advanced degrees, including 41% with master's

degrees, 5% with professional degree, and 11% with

doctorates. This degree distribution differs by occupation,

with 87% holding advanced degrees in math and physical

sciences occupations (47% with doctorates) and 89% in life

science occupations (61% with doctorates).

 

For those with advanced degrees, it may be possible to

infer the proportion without prior U.S. education by examining

the number seeking to be counted against the larger

quota for those with advanced degrees from U.S. schools. In

FY 2006, 59% of doctorate holders, 21% of professional degree

holders, and 52% of master's degree holders indicated

on their H-1B applications that their degree was from a U.S.

school. This both documents the use of the H-1B visa as a

way for graduates of U.S. schools to continue their careers in

the United States, and the importance of the H-1B in bringing

the foreign educated to the United States.



Finally, I knew India deserves a lot of credit for helping the US maintain its competitive edge,but the data really supports this:


H1-B visa recipients have a diverse set of citizenships, with

a large representation of Indian citizens overall and Chinese citizens

among those holding doctorates (figures 3-63 and 3-64). Across all recipients

of new H-1B visas in FY 2006, 54% were Indian citizens,

followed by 9% for China, and 3% each for Canada,17 South

Korea, and the Philippines. Among the 12,500 doctorate

holders receiving new H-1B visas, 32% were Chinese citizens,

followed by 13% for India, 7% for South Korea, 5% for

Canada, and 3% each for Germany, the United Kingdom, and

Japan. Most doctorate holders coming from countries with

large university systems had low rates of claiming a U.S.

degree, for example, the United Kingdom (21%), Germany

(28%), Canada (29%), France (30%), and Japan (31%). In

contrast, 71% of doctorate holders from China and 59% of

doctorate holders from India claimed advanced U.S. degrees

on their visa applications.

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  1. well, if the NSF is for it...'s Avatar
    who can be against it?

    except that the NSF is a slimy entity that profits from H-1b

    kind of like you, Greg
  2. Greg Siskind's Avatar
    Wow, that comment came in, like, 5 minutes after I made this post. That presumably means you spend a lot of time here and must really be worried about what we have to say. Thanks! Incidentally, I'm editing the post to remind people that the NSF is the National Science Foundation, a government agency that is incredibly well-respected in the country, hardly a "slimy entity."
  3. b's Avatar
    "except that the NSF is a slimy entity that profits from H-1b"

    Care to explain why NSF is slimy? If you are calling them slimy because they benefit from H1B, then that's not an argument that holds.

    When I was a student some of my professors were on H1B. You want to call the American students that benefited slimy? Care to provide data that H1B professors depress wage of American professors?
  4. R. Lawson's Avatar
    That's one way to spin it.
  5. George Chell's Avatar
    Either bring foreign skilled workers here or those jobs go abroad. No one has any obligation to hire any particular nationality. It is a global economy, get over it! No one owes Americans anything. It is time for the Americans to get off their butts and compete instead of building bridges that dont last or levees that leaks and kills 10,000 people or a faulty space shuttle which cost fourteen lives, Americans or otherwise.
  6. R. Lawson's Avatar
    George Chell,

    If anyone owes Americans anything, it is our own government. Of course American workers should have preference in our own country.

    Sure other countries do well in math and sciences. The solution isn't to import labor. The solution is to motivate our young people to go out and fight in the global market - and to pursue higher education. Anyone truly interested in fighting with India or China for the software sector would oppose training our future competitors here in our own country.

    Temporary guest worker programs encourage people to leave with valuable knowledge that they can later use to compete against us. If we are to import labor, it should encourage people to stay here permanently and not to run off with high tech knowledge and special skills.
  7. George Chell's Avatar
    "If anyone owes Americans anything, it is our own government. Of course American workers should have preference in our own country."

    I dont think so. It is very interesting that Americans complain against Affirmative action which are racial preferences, but when it comes to better foreigners they want preference. No one should owe minorities anything, ie., no AA. Similarly, no one owes Americans anything. Compete. If you are not good, you can let a better foreigner in. Otherwise the job can go abroad.

    "Sure other countries do well in math and sciences. The solution isn't to import labor. The solution is to motivate our young people to go out and fight in the global market - and to pursue higher education. Anyone truly interested in fighting with India or China for the software sector would oppose training our future competitors here in our own country."

    No one asked the Americans not to compete just like no one asked minorites not to compete for slots in UCLA or Berkeley.

    "Temporary guest worker programs encourage people to leave with valuable knowledge that they can later use to compete against us. If we are to import labor, it should encourage people to stay here permanently and not to run off with high tech knowledge and special skills."

    That is why we need to lift country quotas on skilled immigrants and increase the number of permanent immigrants to 200,000 per year. The threat of immigrants competing should force Americans to perform better. Paying farm workers as much as engineers to attract them to pick fruits as FAIR and CIS want would simply drain more and more people away from college and away from the sciences and engineering.

  8. b's Avatar
    Roy, lot of American trained people from China and India are thinking of leaving because the wait for EB GC is years and years. Can anyone blame these people wanting to leave?
  9. R. Lawson's Avatar
    "That is why we need to lift country quotas on skilled immigrants and increase the number of permanent immigrants to 200,000 per year."

    George, I have argued that we abolish the H-1b visa and replace it with GC numbers higher than what you state here (85,000 current H-1b cap + 50,000 current numbers + all immediate family members of the primary applicant). I'm OK with competition on a level footing. I'm not OK with the ability for corporations to sponsor people - thus restricting their ability to work on the free labor market.

    "Roy, lot of American trained people from China and India are thinking of leaving because the wait for EB GC is years and years. Can anyone blame these people wanting to leave?"

    B, No I can't blame them. I would like to see ICE focus their efforts on repairing this process instead of wasting their resources on scores of temporary visa programs designed to placate the cheap labor appetite of business.

    Immigration should be about building a stronger nation, not about cheap labor. We look at the entire thing wrongly. You don't build a better nation on temporary worker programs. You build a better nation on strong families able to establish roots here - and able to melt into our society.
  10. 's Avatar

    Thanks for the nice article Greg.
  11. b's Avatar
    Roy, since we agree the current skilled immigration system is broken. I urge you to participate in the IV letter campaign for administrative fix. It will remove the exploitative nature in the employer-employee relation you mention by freeing lot of skilled foreign workers.

    I am not being sarcastic or spiteful in my request. I urge everyone who think skilled immigrants can benefit the US long term to write that letter.
  12. George Chell's Avatar
    I believe except the first writer we are all on the same wavelength. Two things need to be done before we do anything else: (1) Abolition of Section 214 b for those on student visas who already have an undergraduate degree; (2) Lift all national quotas and replace it with a system similar to that of Australia. After that we can abolish H1-B and raise the number of skilled immigrant visas to 200,000 per year. If we there is no political will to do that, we keep H1-B but replace it with a system similar to that of Singapore where there are no restrictions on the number of years you are allowed to work in the US or for changing jobs as long as it is within the field of expertise.

    This could be a starting point for further discussion among policy makers and common folk like me (us). Not etched in stone. But, there should be no compromise on doing away with Section 214(b) for students who have a bachelor's degree.
  13. Sid's Avatar
    In theory, there's nothing wrong with what Roy is suggesting - replacing H-1B with GC's. However, with quotas in place, the government agencies have to select the top talent among the many applications. Without quotas, the agencies can do a mediocre job and it would still be ok. With quotas they have to do a better job than what the industry is doing at present in selecting the most suitable candidates. Anyone who has dealt with the USCIS/DOL will know that this is next to impossible. The reason lies in the answer to the following question - How many smart Americans choose to work for agencies like USCIS/DOL Vs the industry?
  14. R. Lawson's Avatar
    Sid, your choice is the following:

    Corporations will select people they desire, but many have also proven that they will break the law if they are a part of the selection process. You will find that people are selected because of their low wages as opposed to their high skills.

    On the flip side, you have the government who may not make as good of a decision as a corporation in terms of who is most qualified. But, they are less likely to break the law.

    I would rather fix the government's administration of the program than prevent companies from breaking the law. The reason is because there is always political pressure to ignore law breaking by business. The simple solution is to take away their ability to break the law.

    Businesses will ALWAYS make a decision in their financial interest. They will NEVER make a decision that has a social agenda unless it somehow helps their bottom line.
  15. George Chell's Avatar
    "Businesses will ALWAYS make a decision in their financial interest. They will NEVER make a decision that has a social agenda unless it somehow helps their bottom line."

    Businesses are not welfare organizations, although I do question the habit of American businesses handing out big bonuses and stock options to incompetent CEOs.

  16. Sid's Avatar
    Your assumption that businesses will compromise on skills as long as they are able to save on cost is true for industries with a low barrier for entry - IT services for example. It's not true for industries where the quality is important - like product development, where the barrier for entry is usually higher.

    I think our opposing viewpoints are a result of being in two different markets. Where the barrier for entry is low, there is invariably more competition, leading to companies competing on price, which leads to a higher tendency to cut costs.

    In a competitive product development market, the quality of the product is more important than the cost of building it. So, there is a tendency to hire the best engineers instead of the cheapest. I'm not saying that the cost is not important, merely that is not as important as it is in the services sector. You cannot build a totally crappy product at the cheapest price and expect to capture a large market share.

    As I see it, it would be easier for the government agencies to punish the bad companies without bothering the good companies than to become competent enough to make hiring decisions for all companies. The later would simply not happen. The first approach still has a chance of succeeding. I support some of the changes in the H-1B laws that you guys are lobbying for. For example, I support having a labor market test before issuing an H-1B as long as this requirement is waived during PERM. I do not have a problem with the prevailing wages being closer to market wages. However, I think requiring a market test every time an H-1B needs to switch job or extend the status is too restrictive and unfair. I also think that the H-1B quota should be function instead of fixed number so that it adapts to the state of the economy and the labor market automatically.
  17. R. Lawson's Avatar
    "For example, I support having a labor market test before issuing an H-1B as long as this requirement is waived during PERM. I do not have a problem with the prevailing wages being closer to market wages. However, I think requiring a market test every time an H-1B needs to switch job or extend the status is too restrictive and unfair."

    Sid,

    I think we found enough common ground here. I would support something that addresses both of our concerns. I agree with you on all points.

    "I also think that the H-1B quota should be function instead of fixed number so that it adapts to the state of the economy and the labor market automatically."

    I agree if it is based on job creation in an occupation. For example, I don't think the IT industry can claim a shortage while growth remains at 1-2% or less. Some industries (like healthcare) can honestly claim a shortage.

    The ITAA will point to Software Engineering's rapid growth but ignore Programmer's equally rapid decline - and claim a shortage. My concern is that we have a reliable formula to determine what a shortage is and not rely on the crocodile tears from industry.
  18. George Chell's Avatar
    "For example, I don't think the IT industry can claim a shortage while growth remains at 1-2% or less. Some industries (like healthcare) can honestly claim a shortage."

    There is no shortage of actors in the USA. However, there is a tendency to bring in close to 7,000 actors every year from abroad even as good looking American women live on the streets of Hollywood looking for work. Anti-immigration groups such as FAIR and CIS dont make an issue of this because most foreign actors, unlike computer programmers or even University professors happen to be white. That is why you will not hear racists such as Heather MacDonald or Steven Malanga of the Manhattan Institute make an issue of this.

    "The ITAA will point to Software Engineering's rapid growth but ignore Programmer's equally rapid decline - and claim a shortage. My concern is that we have a reliable formula to determine what a shortage is and not rely on the crocodile tears from industry."

    The programmers are in rapid decline because of jobs moving abroad and some of it was perpetuated by H1-Bs dropping to 65,000 in 2002 or 2003. Pretty soon there wont be any computer programmers left in the US.

  19. R. Lawson's Avatar
    "That is why you will not hear racists such as Heather MacDonald or Steven Malanga of the Manhattan Institute make an issue of this. "

    If they were lilly white programmers from Russia or Canada my argument would not change. It's an issue of economics, not race. For me at least.

    "Pretty soon there wont be any computer programmers left in the US."

    The numbers will certainly go down. I doubt that the profession is a lost cause.

    If it weren't for low wages, there would be no reason to offshore (other than a labor shortage). Offshoring is much more difficult a project so to make it worthwhile there must be an adequate wage or skill disparity. The value of the dollar is in decline and wages in India are on the rise. The game today isn't the same game as it was just two years ago.

    I think part of the cause of lower numbers is that programmers simply wish to be classified as software engineers. There is grey area in defining the two. With high levels of abstraction in software development tools, many people are no longer technically programmers, at least according to the DOL definition.
  20. b's Avatar
    In general, I have found the US to be the racially most tolerant of all the (handful of) countries I have ever lived in. US is the first choice.
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