Wednesday, July 25, 2012

H1-B Answers at Economix

Economix has a Q&A with Brookings researchers on the H1-B. This question specifically deals with work I've done:

Why can Intel not find suitable American-born STEM workers for their approximately 2,800 openings but Lowell and Salzman report that the American STEM graduates each year exceed the number of openings by a factor of 3?
John Gary, Boulder Colo.
The years of education demanded by the average American  job is growing, and the educational level of American workers has fallen behind to some extent.  However, there is disagreement about the existence of a shortage of science, technology, engineering and mathematics workers in the United States.

Some argue that the American educational system lacks rigor in these fields and that American students lack the interest or ability to pursue these occupations to the extent that our companies need them.  Others argue that we are in fact graduating enough students in STEM every year but that they are being diverted to work in other fields.  Meanwhile, American companies that report having trouble finding qualified workers among the existing work force are using the H-1B program to fill job openings."

The "Lowell and Salzman report" they're refering to is this one - I did research assistant work on it while at the Urban Institute. Lowell and Salzman are my two co-investigators on the Sloan Foundation grant that I was just awarded, and Lowell was the Georgetown professor that organized the conference I was at the other week.

We know that people do a lot of things with a STEM degree besides just STEM jobs, so I usually prefer not to do the straight ratio of graduates to openings. But it is a useful number to have on hand when you're dealing with people who act like this is a linear pipeline and we don't have enough graduates to meet demand on the other end.

A lot of the questions are about wages and immigrants taking American jobs. This doesn't interest me as much. Of course supply lowers wages. Of course some immigrants are complements to native labor while some are substitutes. But so what? I'm out of the workforce right now, more or less (I'm not sure what income from my grant makes me in terms of labor force status, but let's say I'm out because I'm not working full time anymore). When I get back in the labor force, I will also lower other people's wages. My labor will be a complement to some labor and a substitute for other labor.

So? Who cares?

These things about immigration don't really bother me.

What bothers me about the H1-B is that we are using policy to pick and choose what kind of workers we are importing, and we are favoring high skill workers. I don't see any reason why we should be doing that.


  1. H1-B is a horrible distortion in a market. Why would anyone support the idea?

    No sane, rational American would go into pay $250,000, or more, to go to MIT or Cal Tech, and then go into STEM.

    1) You likely will never even get an interview

    2) If hired, you will be underpaid (20% of H1-Bs involve fraud re: compensation)

    3) You will be fired, ASAP, and not be able to find another STEM job.

    Facts, I realize, never matter around here, but go read the surveys of engineers. There all, universally, advise their sons and daughters, do not become an engineer, you with be screwed

    1. re: "Facts, I realize, never matter around here, but go read the surveys of engineers. "

      AH - have you even read the report I linked to? We talk about all of this stuff. I highlight these points all the time when I talk about this workforce (although of course I express the point more accurately than your hyperbolic #1).


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