AFL-CIO Report Takes Critical Look at H-1B Visa Program

Ann All

Back in the summer of 2008, I wrote a post in which I shared the views of several experts that there was no shortage of U.S. workers available to fill tech jobs. A newly issued IT salary report by Janco Associates makes much the same point, noting "there now is a surplus of seasoned IT professionals available." (This is not exactly apples to apples. The experts were discussing mostly entry-level jobs, while "seasoned" professionals would work in more senior positions.)


Some, but not all, of the experts mentioned in my 2008 post linked the issue of an "artificial" programmer shortage to the wide availability of H-1B visas. While technology companies insist they need more H-1Bs to hire folks with specialized skills not readily available in the United States, most of them hire workers with far more basic programming skills, they said. The H-1Bs allow them to hire foreign-born workers for salaries far less than those paid to U.S. counterparts with similar levels of ability and experience.


That's exactly what's happening, according to a new AFL-CIO report based on research by the National Research Council, the Government Accountability Office, the Department of Education, the Computing Research Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the RAND Corp. and other sources. Among the issues covered in the report, says an eWEEK story, are stagnating wages for both U.S. IT pros and H-1B visa holders.


It cites specific examples of wage abuse, finding a Florida Web developer paid $11.20 an hour, for example. This isn't new for those who follow the issue, of course. A late 2008 report by the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services covered some of the same ground, finding 13 percent of H-1B applications filed on behalf of employers are fraudulent and another 8 percent contain some kind of technical violations.


The AFL-CIO report also relates information from a recent Rutgers study that found graduates in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, math) don't pursue careers in those fields because of their perceptions that such careers are susceptible to offshoring.


There is at least one possible red herring. In the spring of 2008, I mentioned comments from Hal Salzman of the Urban Institute, who contended that companies had "unrealistic expectations" for IT pros. The increasing demand for folks with more specialized skills seems to support that idea.

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Jan 8, 2010 7:32 AM Donna Conroy, Director Donna Conroy, Director  says:

It comes as no suprise to most tech professionals that our nation has an oversupply of talented, highly-skilled professionals.  For 20 years now, tech companies have been protected as they bypass local talent for US job openings. 

The current CIR bill will finally force corporations to seek local talent before recruiting abroad.  However, it won't address the culture of bypass within the IT industry and other STEM fields.

The question Congress, academics and policy wonks must  now answer is, "Now that we have the technical talent, what are we going to do with it?"

Jan 9, 2010 5:32 AM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says:

As much as I loath the notion of an over-supply, we are clearly in this territory.

This was actually the (until recently unstated) goal of policy makers.  Their idea of competing globally requires that we lower wages in the United States.  As an example, Alan Greenspan had this to say to Congress on the subject of the H-1b visa and it's goal of lowering wages:

"Greatly expanding our quotas for the highly skilled would lower wage premiums of skilled over lesser skilled. Skill shortages in America exist because we are shielding our skilled labor force from world competition. Quotas have been substituted for the wage pricing mechanism. In the process, we have created a privileged elite whose incomes are being supported at noncompetitively high levels by immigration quotas on skilled professionals. Eliminating such restrictions would reduce at least some of our income inequality."

Greenspan apparently believes that IT workers are the "priviledged elite".  The vast majority of American IT workers earn (well) less than six figures.  If we are the priviledged elite, just what are he and every CEO around the country?  Gods?  There are people in the financial services industry who earn my salary - and that's just their end of year bonus. 

I suppose anyone not tending to the Greenspan lawn and garden or working on his roof qualify as "priviledged elite".  The true elite in this country won't be satisfied until the middle class is a skeleton if its former self.


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