H-1B Visas: Are we being sold a bill of goods?

That’s the argument being made in the New York Times by Ross Eisenbrey of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.  Big technology companies and business groups have been arguing for years to expand the H-1B visa program that permits foreign tech workers to be employed in the United States.  Eisenbrey cautions that this has nothing to do with a skills shortage in the US:

If anything, we have too many high-tech workers: more than nine million people have degrees in a science, Talenttechnology, engineering or math 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 math-related fields for workers with a college degree rose only 4.5 percent 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 percent — that’s more than twice as high as it was before the recession.

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.

The full column is here.

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