I have been following the H-1B visa debate for years. It is interesting, but the fact is that in the United States, scientists and engineers have never been seen as valued members of society. They have been, and are, simply tools to be used to put more profits into the company chests. Perhaps this is as it should be. Most companies, however, are willing to pay an adequate or even high price for a good tool. The same is not true for the engineering and scientific tools (personnel) that are needed for companies to show profits.
For the more than 30 years that I have been in the business, I have seen companies always try to pull the "bring in somebody from overseas at a very, very low wage" game rather than pay a U.S. person a living or good wage commensurate with the benefit they give to their employer. That is why students are not going into engineering and science. They are too smart to waste their time on an education that, at best, will earn them less than half what a plumber can get.
For example, my oldest son got a degree in biochemistry and worked for a few years in genetic research, making some very important contributions. When he found himself having to hold down a second job just to make ends meet and saw that his employer was bringing in foreign employees at even lower rates than he was getting, he finally "saw the light." He quit and went to school for three months (compared with the six-plus years he needed for the biochemistry degree) and became a financial adviser at a bank. He is now earning more than double what he got as a scientist and is working far fewer hours. Now, which is smarter? Should he have stayed on as a scientist, or should he have done what he did?
Let's be realistic: As long as a company can hire somebody at a slave wage and hold the all-important green card over their head to keep them from asking for more, this situation will endure. If necessary, let's not limit H-1B visas. Instead, let us make a new law requiring that any company that claims to need an H-1B visa employee pay that employee a salary at least equal to that of the CEO. I think this would end the H-1B situation immediately. It would also allow science and engineering salaries to rise probably very slowly, because of the glut of foreign personnel already here to a more realistic level.
Denney L. Wilson
. . . or hardly working?
I agree with my colleague and friend Paul Kostek that lifting H-1B caps is not the answer to attracting people to engineering (Crosstalk, May 16, page 28). Retaining them is also not the answer. The whole subject is irrelevant to the training of our own engineers. Neither is our problem the fault of our education system.
I remember just how dismal education was in the '50s, especially in the inner-city schools. Those of us who escaped did so by being very interested in what we were studying and by doing our own pushing to get to where we wanted to be. The education system never helped us. We did it on our own, and the successful always have.
Sadly, it is our societal work ethic that has degraded and caused all of this. Everyone these days wants more gratification for less work. This has led to the current state of affairs, where work is going overseas, products are coming from overseas and engineers are coming from overseas primarily because costs are a lot cheaper over there and the workers will do the work. Foreign workers can actually live here for half of what we expect as a living wage.
Our kids want an education handed to them (I had to work for mine) and want a good living handed to them (again, I have had to work for mine). Rare is the person today, male or female, who wants to devote the effort it takes to succeed in any of the sciences, theoretical or practical.
I don't know how to solve this problem, but I do know that I have five grandchildren enrolled in the same elementary school, and they are getting a far better deal than I ever got. Further, they have me as a mentor (they live with me), and at least one of them is PhD material.
At least part of the solution is for all of us to pitch in, even at the first-grade level, and see to it that kids get the [best foundation] possible. We can't afford not to do it.
Henry A. Burger
Naval Air Systems Command
Patuxent River, Md.