Photo: Hamilton Project via AEI
We shouldn’t try to attract and keep more high-skill immigrants just because a group of technology companies say we should — just like we shouldn’t spend trillions on new infrastructure projects just because a group of civil engineers say we should. Everyone has their biases. The opinion of tech companies should inform the current immigration debate rather than influence.But a New York Times op-ed by the union-backed Economic Policy Institute, “America’s Genius Glut,” ventures into the hysterical when attacking the idea of a tech workers shortage and a new bill that would increase the number of high-skill temporary and permanent visas:
If there is no shortage of high-tech workers, why would companies be pushing for more? Simple: workers under the H-1B program aren’t like domestic workers — because they have to be sponsored by an employer, they are more or less indentured, tied to their job and whatever wage the employer decides to give them.
Moreover, too many are paid at wages below the average for their occupation and location: over half of all H-1B guest workers are certified for wages in the bottom quarter of the wage scale.
Bringing over more — there are already 500,000 workers on H-1B visas — would obviously darken job prospects for America’s struggling young scientists and engineers. But it would also hurt our efforts to produce more: if the message to American students is, “Don’t bother working hard for a high-tech degree, because we can import someone to do the job for less,” we could do significant long-term damage to the high-tech educational system we value so dearly.
Do we have too many high-skill workers already? One piece of evidence, says the EPI op-ed, is that “the unemployment for high-tech workers may seem low — currently 3.7 per cent — that’s more than twice as high as it was before the recession.” I am not sure where that number comes from. The unemployment rate for workers with a college degree or higher is 3.7%, according to the BLS. But the rate for workers with a doctoral degree is just 2.5%. And many tech occupations have bottom-barrel unemployment rates:
– Computer and information research scientists, 0.9%
– Network and computer systems administrators, 1.7%
– Computer and information systems managers, 2.2%
– Software developers, applications and systems software, 2.3%
Some of those high-skill immigrants become entrepreneurs, and there are danger signs there. In Silicon Valley, according to one study, foreign-born founders have tumbled from 52% to 43%. Anyway, given the huge positive impact of highly-educated, high-skill immigrants–particularly in the STEM fields–I am not sure a glut is even possible in 2013 America. Economist Giovanni Peri:
1. While accounting for only 13 per cent of the population, foreign-born individuals account for about one-third of U.S. patented innovations.
2. One-quarter of all U.S.-based Nobel laureates of the past 50 years were foreign born. Immigrants have been founders of 25 per cent of new high-tech companies, with more than $1 million in sales in 2006, generating income and employment for the whole country.
3. Over the period 1975–2005, all of the net growth in the number of U.S.- based Ph.D.s was due to foreign-born workers.
4. Currently about half of the Ph.D.s working in science and technology are foreign born. Innovation and technological progress are the engines of economic growth.
5. A high-skill job in a city creates 2.5 additional jobs in the local nontradable sector through linkages of production and local demand effects.
6. An increase in the share of college-educated immigrants by 1% increases productivity and wages for everybody in a city by 1%.
7. Immigrants accounted for well over 50% of the growth in employment in STEM-related fields between 2003 and 2008.
Then there is the way immigration helps a nation take advantage of globalization. AEI’s Nick Schulz:
Many major American firms are multinational in their orientation, with growing presences in foreign markets around the world. Think of great companies such as Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Intel, Caterpillar, 3M, or Ingersoll-Rand. Skilled immigrants possess valuable knowledge of foreign market customs, mores, obstacles, and opportunities. Their knowledge can offer an additional edge to the companies that employ them or the new companies they start. Skilled immigrants also help established companies by their interaction with new foreign markets. The presence of these immigrants working for American companies can help boost trade, according to the OECD, “by lowering trade-transaction costs as a result of migrants’ knowledge of markets back home and their contact networks.”
Highly educated immigrants are also great for the US fiscal situation:
Too many smart, highly-skilled people in America? More please!