I went to a STEM/high skill visa event at the Capitol yesterday that was interesting simply in how many different worlds it brought together. The audience was primarily Congressional staffers and journalists. Hal Salzman was the only academic on the panel. There was an immigration lawyer, government relations or human resources people from TI and Intel, as well as two industry associations, and a representative of historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) science programs. The group that organized the event deals a lot with diversity in STEM and getting underrepresented minorities interested and active in STEM.
Diversity vs. Immigration: With all the industry people there, the diversity angle was nice because they were agreeing a lot with Hal - suggesting that they were graduating a lot of domestic students that were having trouble getting jobs and the idea of a shortage sounded odd to them. Usually you don't see the diversity in STEM/STEM immigrants discussion coming together in this way but that was very productive I thought.
Scholarly vs. Popular Literature: It was also interesting to see the research and industry worlds collide. One of the guys from an industry association said that Hal sounded like "climate change denialists" because ours was the only study out there saying there were no shortages. This was shocking to me. I know a lot of economists that support high skill visas but I don't know any off-hand that think we have a high skill labor shortage. Certainly none of the big names in the high-skill labor literature. All of the major economic studies on the question since the 1950s that I know of are skeptical of the labor shortage claim. But of course, this guy isn't thinking of the economic literature when he said Hal was like a climate change denialist. He's thinking of the studies he's seen from trade associations and think tanks. I pretty much ignore the trade association studies and have a very discriminating eye when it comes to think tank studies (I think for good reason!), but that seems to be all he has in mind.
Politics vs. Policy: Our group was talking to a journalist we know that covers these issues afterwards - he was asking us some questions and we were trying to get feedback from him. What struck me about that conversation was how focused most people were on the politics driving the immigration bill, specifically how the high-skill provisions were being structured to get Republican support for a bill many would rather not support. I'm very much a "politics without romance" guy and that sort of thing isn't news to me. But it's also not the interesting question for me at all. The interesting question is the policy question - what conditions would justify these policies and do those conditions exist? But a lot of people are not really focusing on that.
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