More High-Tech Visas Mean More Competition with U.S. Graduates for Jobs

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It appears there is bipartisan agreement that there should be more visas for foreign graduates with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) degrees. But, what seems missing is any rational focus on whether there is a need for more STEM workers.

A bill pushed by Republicans in the House of Representatives in September to increase visas nearly passed. The final vote tally was 258 to 158, including 30 Democrats voting in favor, but since it was introduced in a process that limited debate and barred amendments, the bill failed under the requirement for a super majority. According to the New York Times, “Democratic leaders accused Republicans of partisan posturing by rushing a vote on an immigration issue when, they said, bipartisan accord was within reach.”  The Republican-backed bill failed because the Democrats were unwilling to give the Republicans bragging rights for their approach.

The interest in Congress to increase visas for STEM graduates responds to the aggressive lobbying by high-tech firms and by the universities across the country that are churning out graduates. The most frequently heard argument is that we are training highly qualified foreign students and then – because there are not enough visas available for them – we are sending them back to their home countries to compete against our companies. To avoid this, the argument goes, we should make sure U.S. jobs are available for them. This argument does not make sense.

The U.S. is currently issuing visas to about 100,000 foreign professionals each year with a special allocation for graduates with advanced degrees from U.S. universities. In addition, foreign graduates of U.S. universities have the opportunity to remain and work in the U.S. for up to 29 months under the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program.  According to the Institute for International Education, in 2011 there were more than 76,000 foreign graduates from U.S. universities working in the U.S. in OPT status. Could it be that there is there a need for still more visas?

According to the professional workers department of the AFL-CIO, “If a genuine labor shortage existed, wages in these fields would have risen dramatically in ways they have not. … In addition, unemployment rates in this sector have increased dramatically over the past year, with engineers reaching their highest unemployment rate since at least 1972.” (Gaming the System 2012: Guest Worker Programs and Professional and Technical Workers in the U.S.)

The discussion should focus on whether more foreign STEM graduates are needed and whether worker shortages truly exist. The data refute these contentions. What appears to be the case is that even current levels of foreign STEM worker admissions creates competition with U.S. graduates, resulting in the depression of wages for both the U.S. and foreign graduates.

If we genuinely are concerned about STEM graduates going back to their home countries to compete against U.S. high-tech firms, then we should limit the student visas to a level that can be absorbed upon their graduation without creating unwanted completion with U.S. graduates.

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About Author

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Jack, who joined FAIR’s National Board of Advisors in 2017, is a retired U.S. diplomat with consular experience. He has testified before the U.S. Congress, U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform and has authored studies of immigration issues. His national and international print, TV, and talk radio experience is extensive (including in Spanish).

6 Comments

  1. avatar

    While it was a popular fad during the 70-71 recession to make it appear that there were unemployed engineers (and scientists) everywhere on the part of the MSM, the actual unemployment rate for engineers as measured by the BLS’s household survey (the same survey we get our monthly unemployment statistics from) was 2.2% in 1970, 2.9% in 1971, and 1.9% in 1972. The household survey goes back to 1963 for engineers and many other occupations as well.

    For this recession the unemployment rate for engineers has been between 4 and 6%., peeking at 5.9% for the 3rd quarter of 2009. This is about double the unemployment rate when contrasted to the 70-71 recession, 2 to 3 times higher than the unemployment rate for lawyers, and probably a record high from the household survey.

  2. avatar

    this is a disgrace.when do we americans wake up and revolt?we sleep and take crap from this govt.we do not need immigrants here anymore.we needed them 100 yra ago but not today.especially when we are in bad times.
    the end is near

  3. avatar
    Concerned Citizen on

    STEM visas is one area where the American people still don’t have much say in their lot. It’s wrong to drive native-born Americans out of STEM jobs and it’s also a national security risk (technology theft). The Federal government still doesn’t appreciate the national security implications of immigration.

  4. avatar

    The traitors to American citizens never stop their fifth columnist acitivity selling out Americans jobs.

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  6. avatar

    I’ll Speak for the Engineers That Still Have Common Sense

    They say there’s a shortage of engineers in America [they also say amnesty is good for America]; where did they pull that lie out of? We’ve outsourced a lion’s share of the American based automotive engineers [college “headquarters” business jobs too] the last couple decades. NASA closed its “1960 invention” Shuttle Program….even the Mars Rovers are old programs laid out to die; engineers were laid off in droves recently. We don’t make hardly anything in this country anymore thanks to the open border idiots in charge, why do we need engineers anymore?

    IOWs, IMO…..if you’re an engineer and drive an automobile other than American engineered [The Big Three], you’re a “turn-coat” to your own domestic profession. If you aren’t an engineer and prefer outsourced engineering autos from Japan, Europe and S. Korea to American managed products; why should I support your profession then?

    I’ve asked this question to many that drive foreign engineered/managed autos [albeit some lower paid non-union factory jobs in America] and their mouths just drop open, with no argument what-so-ever. Is America’s future to be peasants of some “overlord” slavemaster from like China? When Americans completely stop buying foreign “overlords'” autos because their wages continued to collapse on today’s pattern, what factories will the “overlords” close first [hint: it won’t be in Japan, S Korea or Europe]?