Engineers and management agree we should give green cards to foreign-born STEM grads, but we could use more common ground as the debate ramps up.
SAN JOSE, Calif. – As the debate over immigration gets moved to the front burner, Washington appears to be uniting, but the tech industry remains as polarized as ever.
I am glad to see Republicans and Democrats coming together on immigration reform as they scramble for the growing Hispanic vote. There are plenty of wrongs to right.
Unfortunately, there are no uniting forces in the tech community. Rank-and-file US engineers remain viscerally concerned about technical jobs getting sent overseas while management sees top talent nurtured and attracted to growing markets in China and India.
In a recent press release, the IEEE-USA cited data (below) from the US Department of Labor showing that the top 10 companies applying for H-1B visas in the first three months of FY 2013 were offshore outsourcing companies.
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It’s worth noting that same data showed the vast majority of those H-1B jobs were not for engineering, but IT staff running computer systems (below). However, the IEEE-USA claims many of these work visas ultimately get issued to scientists and engineers.
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Some members of Congress are considering increasing the H-1B cap significantly beyond 65,000 as part of comprehensive immigration reform, the IEEE release said. But that would only benefit those outsourcing companies, it claimed.
It’s worth noting the IEEE-USA supports legislation providing employment-based green cards for skilled immigrants earning advanced STEM degrees from US colleges and universities, and their dependents. “Green cards, unlike H-1B visas, allow immigrants to start their own companies, many of which will create jobs in the United States,” it said.
That’s a small but important piece of common ground where the IEEE stands beside high tech managers who are calling for green cards both for foreign-born STEM grads but for entrepreneurs as well. Why let that brilliant engineer start a hot new company in Shanghai when she could start it in San Francisco, they ask.
Even if the tech lobby can learn to speak with one voice, it is a tiny squeal amid the immigration roar. Huge lobbies are at play, some pressing for stronger enforcement along the Mexican border, others demanding a path to citizenship for undocumented workers.
In the end the US immigration debate is more about how we regard Mexico than China and India. In my opinion, there is plenty of room for useful reforms in both directions.
It’s also clear to me that we need as much unity as we can get in US politics these days if we are going to move the ball forward. So here’s to the hope we can all find a little more common ground on which to stand.
What proportion of the H1B's, end up legally obtaining a green card, through the labor certification process. Many I believe, - a drain to the countries loosing these educated and trained professionals, but a gain to the US, as we have over the last 2 centuries.
"Rome is on fire and Nero is fiddling"... when there is such a massive unemployment with a stubborn recession, we are talking about bringing in people from elsewhere to be employed here. What a travesty. The real immigration reform should be to temporarily stop all immigration ( legal, of course, the illegal goes on) until the unemployment situation gets better and then rethink the whole immigration concept.
Excellent points Rick & Bert. I personally think Congress should wait to take up the H1-B vias and green cards for foreign STEM graduates at a later time -- after they deal with what the public perceives as the real "immigration issue," namely Mexico and what to do about the many millions of illegal immigrants from there living in the U.S.
I think the different camps, i.e. Congress and the engineering or scientific community, are talking past one another. And parenthetically I was actually heartened to see other countries, e.g. Singapore, dealing with these same immigration debates.
In the US, the debate in Congress at this time is hardly about the immigration of highly skilled and educated workers. That debate may be going on in our community, but I think it's a mistake to conflate this H-1B debate with the larger immigration question.
Unlike countries like Canada, the US has placed a lot more emphasis on allowing immigration of family members of immigrants, than on permitting immigration of those with the skills we need most for our economy. The main immigration questions debated in Congress are about providing a path to citizenship for illegals and their children. A far cry from determining what number of H-1B visa workers to allow here.
I'm afraid any squeal from the tech community would be drowned out in a tidal wave of "You're just adding to the confusion. We're not talking about that!"