The biggest technology companies in the U.S. have been asking for immigration reform for a long time.
Their general complaint is that they can’t hire the best and brightest people from around the world to work at their companies because of our immigration laws. As a result, our corporations and our nation are at risk of losing their competitive edge.
There is a new bill in discussion in Congress to make our worker visa program, the H-1B visa program, more expansive. Congress is considering expanding it to allow 300,000 workers to stay here on 6-year visas.
In response to this bill, Ross Eisenbrey has a compelling op-ed for The New York Times dismantling the common arguments from tech companies that we need to reform immigration so we can have more high-tech workers in the country.
Eisenbrey doesn’t believe our nation has a high-tech employment problem:
If anything, we have too many high-tech workers: more than nine million people have degrees in a science, technology, engineering or maths field, but only about three million have a job in one. That’s largely because pay levels don’t reward their skills. Salaries in computer- and maths-related fields for workers with a college degree rose only 4.5 per cent between 2000 and 2011. If these skills are so valuable and in such short supply, salaries should at least keep pace with the tech companies’ profits, which have exploded.
And while 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.
He believes the real reason tech companies want more high-tech employees on 6-years visas is that they can take advantage of these employees.
If Google hires you on a 6-year visa, you can’t quit and get another job. You can quit, but then your next employer has to get you an H-1B. And that employer might not have access to an H-1B. If you can’t quit to take another job, it’s going to be much harder to negotiate your salary higher.
This sort of scenario may already be playing out. Eisenbrey says, “over half of all H-1B guest workers are certified for wages in the bottom quarter of the wage scale.”
While this sounds like an interesting theory, we would point out that if H-1Bs were more plentiful, then it would be harder to keep employees as “indentured servants,” as Eisenbrey puts it.