We Owe It to Our Kids to Get Over the H-1B Hang-Up

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In my "Mamas, Please Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Tech Pros" post yesterday, I wrote about what a shame it is that many IT professionals have become so disenchanted with the profession that they're discouraging their kids from studying computer science and pursuing a career in IT. My point was that just as I don't want us to lose access to the talent that lies outside of this country, I don't want us to lose access to the talent that lies within it, either.


That's exactly what's going to happen if our kids aren't given the resources and encouragement they need to prepare for a tech career. But that reality was lost in another sea of reader commentary with a familiar theme: The H-1B visa program has decimated the profession and destroyed the opportunity for Americans to succeed in it. The premise is that Americans should avoid IT because all the jobs are being taken by H-1B visa holders. And that's just preposterous.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2005, there were 5,905,240 STEM jobs in the U.S. Of those, 2,855,320 were what the BLS calls "technology occupations" or "computer specialists." Tell you what. Let's forget all the other STEM jobs, and just look at those. And let's say that fully half of those jobs have disappeared since 2005 (seems a bit extreme, but what the heck-let's make it interesting). That means there are 1,427,660 technology/computer specialist jobs left.


The number of H-1B visa holders in the country at any one time is difficult to pin down. According to HR Magazine, B. Lindsay Lowell, director of policy studies for the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University, estimates the number at 500,000. That would be roughly 35 percent of the total number of computer jobs out there. I understand that if you're unemployed because you've been displaced by an H-1B visa holder supplied by some corrupt company that's abusing the system, it makes no difference to you whether the number is .0035 percent or 35 percent. You're still out of work. I get that.


But the fact remains that somebody has to fill the other 65 percent of those jobs. We simply can't allow the emotion of the H-1B issue to cause us to lose sight of that, especially with so many baby boomers approaching retirement. Steering our kids away from computer science is a shortsighted, impulsive reaction to the H-1B problem. For the sake of our kids, we need to get over it.