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  by  Lisa Irving

Immigration and the USICA and COMPETES Act Conference

The House and Senate selected conferees earlier this month to resolve the differences between the texts of the Senate's United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) and House of Representatives' America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology, and Economic Strength (COMPETES) Act.

Both bills are aimed at increasing American global competitiveness in manufacturing, research and innovation.

Oddly enough, though, the House's proposal for increasing American competitiveness comes with immigration expansion provisions disadvantageous to American workers and students.

In particular, the House's COMPETES Act allows for an unlimited number of green cards for citizens of foreign countries seeking permanent U.S. residency who hold a U.S. doctorate degree, or its equivalent from a foreign institution, in STEM.

This provision would result in further limiting the job prospects and resources for highly qualified Americans in tech fields.

No Lack of STEM Talent in the U.S.

It is often claimed that the U.S. labor force has a skills gap in tech. However, there is much evidence showing this premise to be false.

The struggles that Americans holding PhDs in STEM face is exposed in the New York Times article "Help Wanted: Adjunct Professor, Must Have Doctorate. Salary: $0." that was published earlier this month. In revealing how a UCLA job listing offered no pay for an adjunct professor with a Ph.D. in chemistry or biochemistry, author Anemona Hartocollis wrote:

the unspoken secret had been fleetingly exposed: Free labor is a fact of academic life...

They have long complained about the long hours and low pay. But these unpaid arrangements are perhaps the most concrete example of the unequal power in a weak labor market — in which hundreds of candidates might apply for one position. Institutions are able to persuade or cajole people who have invested at least five or six years in earning a Ph.D. to work for free, even though, academics said, these jobs rarely lead to a tenure-track position.

Even aside from academia, U.S. STEM talent confront obstacles. According to the June 2021 Census Bureau report "Does Majoring in STEM Lead to a STEM Job After Graduation?":

Majoring in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) does not guarantee a job in a STEM occupation but it typically means a bump in pay.

Among the 50 million employed college graduates ages 25 to 64 in 2019, 37% reported a bachelor's degree in science or engineering but only 14% worked in a STEM occupation, according to the Census Bureau's 2019 American Community Survey 1-year estimates.

This translates into less than a third (28%) of STEM-educated workers actually working in a STEM job."

The foreign-worker programs created and expanded by the 1990 Immigration Act and multiple administrations have successfully diminished the earning potential of tech workers and driven STEM graduates into other fields, as stakeholders predicted and desired.

Proponents advocating for accepting more higher skilled citizens from foreign countries to the U.S. invariably equate immigration with diversity and innovation in the labor force. Yet, the STEM field has still not embraced the diversity among Americans that would lead to more innovation.

In the 2020 USA TODAY column "Blacks, Latinos feel unwelcome in STEM careers. And that's a big problem for our economy.," authors Brent Orrell and Daniel Cox reported:

However, experience in STEM fields varies considerably by gender, race and education. Women, minorities and those with associate degrees have found the field less than welcoming.

Women were much more likely to say they faced career obstacles due to their gender. What this data suggests is that the uneven playing field for women in the STEM workforce may play a part in discouraging long-term commitment to the field. Longevity equates to seniority and advancement into management and leadership positions.

STEM careers also are seen to be less welcoming for racial minorities, including African-Americans and Latinos. Fifty-one percent of those from nonwhite, non AAPI/Hawaiian backgrounds say African Americans face more obstacles and 46 percent say the same about Latinos."

The Alternative to the House's COMPETES Act Immigration Provisions: Protecting American Workers

This past December Representative Jim Banks (R, IN) introduced the American Tech Workforce Act that he says "would stop Big Tech's exploitation of the United States' immigration system to disadvantage American workers and drive down wages."

Additionally, he says the bill:

  1. Creates a wage floor for H-1B visas set at the higher of the annual wage last paid to an American worker who filled the position or $110,000 (adjusted for inflation).
  2. Creates a true marketplace where eligible visa applications are awarded based on the highest bidder.
  3. Eliminates the Optional Practical Training program that allows certain foreigners that came to the U.S. under a student visa and have graduated to work in the U.S. for up to three years if they have a STEM degree and allows their employers to avoid paying payroll taxes on the visa-holder's wages.
  4. Limits the ability of Big Tech firms to contract with third-party companies to fill spots with H-1B recipients sponsored by the third-party company by limiting the maximum validity period of the visas to 1 year.

No Democratic House member has co-sponsored the bill.

Even so, only 17 of the other 210 House Republicans have chosen to co-sponsor the legislation.

LISA IRVING is a Content Writer for NumbersUSA's Media Standards Project

Updated: Thu, May 5th 2022 @ 12:07pm EDT

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