IEEE-USA’s reach and influence in shaping our nation’s high-skill immigration laws was on prime display in March, when it provided witnesses at two congressional hearings.
Bruce Morrison, chairman of Morrison Public Affairs Group, testified on IEEE-USA’s behalf before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security at the 5 March hearing, Enhancing American Competitiveness through Skilled Immigration.
The appearance was a homecoming for Morrison, who as a member of Congress (D-Conn.), chaired the subcommittee from 1989-91. Under his leadership, the basic structure of skilled employment-based immigration, including the H-1B non-immigrant visa program, was passed into law through the Immigration Act of 1990. Today, he is regarded as one of the nation’s foremost experts on high-skill immigration.
The H-1B program allows skilled foreign workers such as scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians–as well as, among others, teachers, lifeguards, hospital workers and fashion models–the opportunity to work in the United States for up to six years. Morrison and his colleagues did not foresee the way the program has been manipulated to put American workers at a disadvantage. He now regards employment-based green cards as much better for the United States’ economic health and job-growth potential.
“We at IEEE-USA very much believe the emphasis should be on green cards,” Morrison testified, while also criticizing the H-1B program.
On 18 March, Dr. Karen Panetta, IEEE-USA vice president for communications and public awareness, and a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Tufts University, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee during the hearing, How Comprehensive Immigration Reform Should Address the Needs of Women and Families.
A day later, The San Jose Mercury News published a story showing that about 70 percent of H-1B visa holders entering or re-entering the United States in 2011 were men. A 2010 National Science Foundation survey found that 77 percent of temporary workers in STEM fields were men. Whether these figures reflect that most of the world’s technology workers are men, or are an underlying gender bias against women, is unknown
What is known is that India, which supplies many of the H-1B employees who work here, confers about 40 percent of its undergraduate engineering degrees to women, yet only 28 percent of H-1B visas go to women, including teachers and fashion models.
“It is hard to get promoted when you don’t get hired in the first place,” Panetta testified. “The existence of this preferred pipeline for new hires has a hugely discouraging effect on independent American women considering STEM fields.
“Why? Because my own experience tells me that the vast majority of H-1B workers are men, and this does not make for a diverse workforce or work environment.”
H-1B: The Outsourcing Visa
H-1B visa workers are often portrayed as the STEM world’s “best and brightest.” But those clamoring for their services don’t usually portray them as such, perhaps to justify paying them less than their American counterparts.
“The GAO found H-1B employers characterize or categorize over half of their H-1B workers as entry level, which is defined as performing routine tasks that require limited, if any, exercise in judgment,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chair of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, in his 5 March opening remarks.
“And only 6 percent are fully competent.”
Gowdy said the prevailing wage for an H-1B worker employed as an entry-level electrical engineer in his home district of Greenville, S.C., is $55,890. For a “fully competent” EE on an H-1B, it’s $88,920.
“Are experienced Americans losing out?” Gowdy asked.
H-1B workers are also losing out. In its Feb. 2013 briefing paper, “Are foreign students the best and brightest?,” the Economic Policy Institute found that:
“The evidence supporting the finding of wage exploitation of H-1B visa holders is consistent with what economic theory would predict: that the H-1Bs are underpaid relative to Americans of comparable education, skills, and so on, due to lack of mobility. That is, if one is not a full free agent in the labor market, which is effectively the case for H-1Bs who are being sponsored for green cards (NRC 2001; Swaim 2012b; Matloff 2003), one will, on average, not get the best salary deal. Furthermore, since green cards provide highly valuable nonmonetary compensation, the sponsorees will generally accept pay lower than their free market.”
Americans definitely get the short end of the stick when their jobs are sent to lower labor-cost nations. While industry tells us that a larger supply of H-1B visas contributes to the health of the U.S. economy, statistics do not bear that out.
Computerworld magazine found that the top 10 users of H-1B visas in FY 2012–and 15 of the top 20–were companies who specialize in replacing American workers in the United States, as well as outsourcing American jobs offshore. When jobs are lost overseas, workers are no longer paying U.S. income tax, nor making purchases in this country.
In “The data shows: Top H-1B users are offshore outsourcers,” Computerworld found that, “Based on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data analyzed, the major beneficiaries of the proposed increase in the [H-1B] cap would be pure offshore outsourcing firms.”
Including exemptions to the 65,000 annual H-1B cap, the United States issued 134,780 H-1B visas in FY 2012. IEEE-USA has long advocated for an immigration policy based on “green cards, not guest workers.”
Those with green cards hold their own visa–as opposed to H-1B workers whose visa is held by the company–and are free to work for whoever will hire them. Green card recipients are able to start their own companies, something H-1B employees also cannot do. Multiple federal indictments and government reports have found that fraud in the H-1B program and abuse of H-1B workers runs rampant.
“We hear all the time that this is a nation of immigrants,” Morrison said. “No one has ever said this is a nation of guest workers. The fact is that immigrants are individuals who come and get green cards and have permanent rights in the United States.”
Immigrants’ Long History of Contribution to American Life
America has long welcomed immigrants from all over the world. Many of them and their children have started successful businesses, or contributed to scientific and engineering advances that have improved our quality of life and understanding of the world around us.
Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan Project, which ultimately brought a swift end to World War II in the Pacific, was born in New York to a German Jewish immigrant father. Dr. Enrico Fermi, a Manhattan Project colleague of Oppenheimer’s, was born in Rome, and immigrated to the United States prior to the Second World War.
Dr. Albert Einstein was a German-born physicist, who developed the special theory of relativity, and won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921. He renounced his German citizenship for political reasons in 1933, and came to the United States to become professor of theoretical physics at Princeton University. He became a U.S. citizen in 1940.
By not making America a more welcoming place for brilliant minds to live, work and study, how many future geniuses are we losing?
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, addressed this issue in her opening remarks during the 5 March hearing. Her district includes Silicon Valley, America’s innovation incubator. Because of the current backlog in the visa processing system, some immigrants have to wait as long as 10 years to obtain an employment-based green card.
“We used to invite the brightest minds in the world to come, make this their home and become Americans with us. Now, we turn them away,” Lofgren said. “We turn away advance-degree graduates in STEM from our best universities; we turn away entrepreneurs who want to start businesses and create jobs for our constituents; we turn away medical professionals willing to help fill gaps in healthcare shortage areas.
“Rather than harness their potential as our country has done for over two centuries, we now tell these people they are not welcome. Worse yet, in this increasingly global economy, we tell them to go home and compete against us from overseas.”
Immigrants, Job Creation and Economic Growth
STEM workers and visionary entrepreneurs are the world’s principal job creators. Engineers, for example, turn scientific discovery into useful systems, products and services that meet a societal need and make the world a better place for all of us. Manufacturing, which employs millions of people worldwide, depends on the design skills of engineers.
The National Academies, according to Lofgren, concluded “that while only four percent of the nation’s workforce is composed of scientists and engineers, this group disproportionately creates jobs for the other 96 percent.”
Truly dynamic engineering, computing and technology professionals should be given the opportunity to work in the United States for whoever they think is offering the best opportunity to make a good living and perform meaningful work. H-1B visa holders are, in a sense, indentured servants, while green cards holders are free agents.
“If we truly want to help women and families, do not increase the H-1B visa program,” Panetta told Congress. “Increase STEM green cards instead.”
According to a 2007 Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation report, 25.3 percent of U.S. engineering and technology companies founded between 1995 and 2005 “had at least one key founder who was foreign-born.” In 2006, these companies employed 450,000 workers and generated $52 billion in revenue, much of it in the United States.
Google is a prime example. The Mountain View, Calif., global technology company was founded in 1998 by Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Brin was born in Moscow to mathematician Michael Brin and scientist Eugenia Brin. The family, after stops in Austria and France, immigrated to New York in 1979, and eventually settled in Greenbelt, Md.
After attending Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Sergey graduated with honors from the University of Maryland, with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and computer science. He and Page met at Stanford University and, working out of a dorm room, developed the idea for a new way to search the Internet.
If the United States had not welcomed Brin’s parents, Sergey would not have grown up here, and very likely, would not have met Page. Now known for much more than its powerful search engine, Google in the fourth quarter of 2012 employed 53,861 people, many of them in America.
“A single visionary newcomer can start a business generating thousands of jobs,” Gowdy said. “It’s vital we keep those jobs here so our fellow citizens can experience the most basic of all family values”–“a job.”
Chris McManes is IEEE-USA’s public relations manager.