I've let it be known that I have come to the conclusion that the H-1B visa program is so broken that it's irreparable, and it needs to be abolished. But from what I can see, the chances of that happening anytime soon are next to zero, because the sense that we need it is too ingrained in the institutional fabric of our country. We can blame whomever we want for that: corrupt politicians, greedy corporations, shameless lobbyists. Or we can blame those who are really, ultimately at fault: ourselves.
Of course, not many of us want to hear that. It's so much easier to point away from ourselves, and sure, some of that is legitimate. But the fundamental reason the H-1B program will continue to exist is that our educational system is failing to produce the science and technology talent that this country needs. And the fundamental reason that's the case is that we don't have the will to do anything to change it.
All we seem to be able to muster the will to do is to complain about the immigrants taking our jobs. I'm right there with anybody who has a problem with the disgusting ways the visa system is abused. But I part ways with those who argue that the problems created by a broken visa system and bad immigration policies warrant an exodus from science and technology careers. We continue to discourage our children from studying science and technology, or at the very least fail to encourage our schools to focus on it. What that has caused was described in a recent Fortune article headlined "America's Science Job Conundrum." Here's an excerpt:
Despite the gloomy jobs report this month, there's some bright news for American job-seekers. U.S. Department of Commerce reported that positions in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields are on the rise in the United States. Job growth expectations of any kind are certainly encouraging, but will the U.S. have enough qualified workers to fill these jobs? Perhaps not, as it looks like the U.S. education system is falling behind in the very fields that show the most job growth potential. According to a report published last year by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, less than one-third of eighth graders in the U.S. are considered proficient in math and science. That's the population that would need to be prepared to fill the new STEM jobs that are expected. Nevertheless, the 2010 White House report on STEM education highlights some pretty dire setbacks, including systemic problems at many schools and a lack of teachers who can effectively teach STEM subjects, even at schools that are otherwise successful. The result is a student population that is not only unprepared for STEM education, but uninterested in the subjects. [B]y the Commerce Department's estimates, there will be about 1.3 million new STEM jobs to fill in the U.S. This means that STEM education will need to pick up soon so that schools can prepare middle and high school students who will enter the workforce when those jobs become available. If not, America will face an embarrassing problem -- a pocket of good, available jobs and an inability to fill them.
In a recent interview with The Globalist, meanwhile, Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, railed against the U.S. educational system and its failure to produce the technology talent we need:
In the United States, we are in the process of seeing the baby boomers - the most productive, highly skilled, educated part of our labor force - retire. They are being replaced by groups of young workers who have regrettably scored rather poorly in international educational match-ups over the last two decades. History tells us that it is those societies that have the most advanced cutting-edge technologies that have the highest standards of living. That's always been the case. If the United States is now slipping in this regard, it is basically because of our increasingly dysfunctional primary education system.
Now, here's the kicker: Asked if there's anything the U.S. government can do to counter the decline in the productivity of the younger part of the work force, this was Greenspan's response:
Yes, there are options to combat that decline, but contrary to what many people believe, we do very poorly in opening up our borders to skilled immigrants. Our H-1B visa restrictions are a disgrace. Most high-income people in our country do not realize that their incomes are being subsidized by their protection from competition from highly skilled people who are prevented from immigrating to the United States. But we need such skills in order to staff our productive economy, so that the standard of living for Americans as a whole can grow.
We need to come to grips with the fact that this is the mindset of policymakers who see our competitive edge and our standard of living slipping because we don't have a pipeline of homegrown technology talent to keep us productive. No, Greenspan didn't mention the lower standard of living of U.S. technology workers who have been laid off after being compelled to train people here on H-1B visas to take their jobs. Nor did he mention those workers who can't find jobs because openings are advertised exclusively to H-1B visa holders. It's OK to be outraged by that, because it's outrageous. What's not OK is to allow all of that to inoculate the generation now in school from a desire to pursue a STEM career. Those of us who dissuade our kids from going into technology, or who don't see the failure of our schools to effectively teach the STEM disciplines as a problem, are among the culprits shutting off the pipeline. Anyone who's complicit in that is in no position to point the finger of blame for the H-1B problem at anyone else.