Jeremy Beck's picture


  by  Jeremy Beck

If you have ever doubted the "skills shortage" claims favored by the "Gang of Eight," President Obama, and the billionaire tech lobby, turn to the technology and business section of your newspaper.

Back in 2007, before the recession, former Fed chair Alan Greenspan succinctly made his case for increased high-skilled immigration. "We pay the highest skilled labor wages in the world," Greenspan said. "If we would open up our borders to skilled labor far more than we do, we would attract a very substantial quantity of skilled labor which would suppress the wage levels of the skilled because we skilled are being essentially subsidized by government, meaning our competition is being kept outside the country."

Wage suppression doesn't sell well in Washington - or with the public, for that matter - so the billionaire tech lobby has instead appealed for better access to foreign workers on the grounds that there isn't enough talent in the United States to meet their demands.

But segments of the media have begun to speak truth to power. Read these excerpts from stories published over the past year and ask yourself if increasing STEM immigration should remain a key justification for "comprehensive immigration reform":

  • "A former Microsoft product manager....was one of 1,400 people cut from the payroll in January 2009 as part of Microsoft’s first-ever companywide layoffs in the recession. The supervisors who eliminated her position were here on visas, as were two recent hires in her work group who dodged the downsizing. Three weeks later, Artech Information Systems, a staffing firm, offered the product manager a three-month contract at Microsoft for what was essentially the same job she had left. The pay was $32 an hour, half her old salary." ("Do visas for skilled foreigners shut out U.S. tech workers?" Kyung M. Song and Janet I. Tu, Seattle Times, May 4, 2013).
  • "The [tech] companies often learned about detailed provisions even before all the members of the so-called Gang of Eight senators who worked out the package were informed....The industry also hopes to get more from the deal by working to remove some regulatory restrictions in the proposal, including on hiring foreign workers and firing Americans." ("Latest Product From Tech Firms: An Immigration Bill," Eric Lipton and Somini Sengupta, New York Times, May 4, 2013).
  • "Perhaps advocates need a new argument for more immigration? Or maybe they should just re-think the employee benefits package." ("U.S. Workers Are Prepared for STEM Jobs, But Firms Aren't Hiring Them" Laura Baverman, Upstart Business Journal, April 30, 2013).
  • "Allowing more stem immigrants, the story goes, is key to adding jobs to the beleaguered US economy. It is a narrative that has been skillfully packaged and promoted by well-funded advocacy groups as essential to the national interest, but in reality it reflects the economic interests of tech companies and universities." ("It doesn't add up" Beryl Lief Benderly, Columbia Journalism Review, May 1, 2013).
  • "That whole skills shortage? It's a myth, as was amply illustrated (yet again) in a report written by researchers from Rutgers, Georgetown, and American University, and issued by the Economic Policy Institute. It still might be the case that tech companies are having trouble finding specific skill sets in certain niches (think cloud software development, or Android programming), but there simply aren't any signs pointing to a broad dearth of talent." ("The Myth of America's Tech-Talent Shortage," Jordan Weissman, The Atlantic, April 29, 2013).
  • "The dilemma for them is that all the evidence lines up to say there's no shortage....Lobbying is a solution to lack of evidence." (Hal Salzman, "Q&A with Hal Salzman", Michael Price, Science Careers, April 29, 2013).
  • "It’s not the first study to suggest that the widely cited “STEM shortage” is at least overstated, if not completely non-existent. Six months ago, the Boston Consulting Group released a report showing that the country had a minor skills shortage in some fields, but nothing significant enough to support an immigration overhaul." ("No Shortage? New STEM data could derail entrepreneurs' push for immigration changes" J.D. Harrison, Washington Post, April 26, 2013).
  • "...the push for more foreign workers might be counterproductive, since it likely result in fewer Americans seeking training and jobs in technology" ("There is no shortage of tech workers," John Carney, CNBC, April 25, 2013).
  • "...sure high-tech employers would like there to be more high-tech workers. I would like there to be more computers as good as the MacBook Air — because greater supply would mean lower price. I just haven’t hired a lobbyist to push federal policy to boost the supply of high-end laptops" ("When they say ‘labor shortage,’ do they just mean ‘we wish wages were lower’?" Timothy P. Carney, The Examiner, April 25, 2013).
  • "Basic dynamics of supply and demand would dictate that if there were a domestic labor shortage, wages should have risen. Instead, researchers found, they’ve been flat, with many Americans holding STEM degrees unable to enter the field and a sharply higher share of foreign workers taking jobs in the information technology industry." ("Study: There may not be a shortage of American STEM graduates after all," Jia Lynn Yang, Washington Post, April 24, 2013).
  • "Actual experts on the science labor force, however, see quite different possibilities: a financial bonanza for universities, economic benefits for employers, and even harder times ahead for STEM workers, who are already struggling." ("What 'Stapling A Green Card' Portends for STEM," Beryl Lief Benderly, Science Careers, April 5, 2013).
  • Stories of high-skilled workers displaced by bottom-dollar immigration policies: "Outsourced, at home" by columnist Farah Stockman, Boston Globe, March 31, 2013.
  • "Politicians and businessmen are fond of talking about America's scientist shortage -- the dearth of engineering and lab talent that will inevitably leave us sputtering in the global economy. But perhaps it's time they start talking about our scientist surplus instead." ("The Ph.D Bust: America's Awful Market for Young Scientists—in 7 Charts" by Jordan Weissman, The Atlantic, February 20, 2013).
  • "A few years ago, the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer informed hundreds of tech workers at its Connecticut R&D facilities that they'd soon be laid off. Before getting their final paychecks, however, they'd need to train their replacements: guest workers from India who'd come to the United States on H-1B visas." ("How H-1B Visas are Screwing Tech Workers," by Josh Harkinson, Mother Jones, February 22, 2013).
  • "Dropping her dream, she took an administrative position at her university, experiencing firsthand an economic reality that, at first look, is counterintuitive: There are too many laboratory scientists for too few jobs." ("U.S. pushes for more scientiest, but the jobs aren't there," Brian Vastag, Washington Post, July 7, 2012).
  • "...proponents of the scarcity narrative typically publicize their views in press releases, while the labor-force experts rely on scholarly papers. Or maybe simplistic narratives of America in decline are just more appealing to the press than the less-dramatic reality." ("What Scientist Shortage?" Beryl Lief Benderly, Columbia Journalism Review, January 17, 2012).
  • Black workers in computer and mathematical occupations had an 8.1 percent jobless rate in 2011 (Michael A. Fletcher, "Black jobless rate is twice that of whites," Washington Post, December 14, 2012)
  • "During the first half of the year, 51,529 planned job cuts were announced across the tech sector, representing a 260 percent increase over the 14,308 layoffs planned during the first half of 2011." ("Tech Layoffs Hit 3-Year High of 51,529 in first half of 2012," Don Reisinger CNET, July 16, 2012).

These are all great stories, not one of which was written by a regular immigration-beat reporter. Where are the immigration reporters? Send in the immigration reporters. The bill is already here.

JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA

American workers
Legal Immigration
High-Tech Worker Visas
Vulnerable Americans

Updated: Mon, Oct 2nd 2017 @ 3:13pm EDT

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