High-Tech Immigrants Needed, but Immigrants Need Not Apply

Engineers and scientists are desperately needed by many high-tech firms. However, positions are going unfilled because there are not enough trained Americans to fill them and immigration policy doesn’t allow enough visas to be granted to qualified immigrants who would be happy to take these jobs. And it’s not only in established businesses where immigrants bolster the economy. One study showed that foreign-born entrepreneurs started more than 25% of the technology and engineering firms in the U.S. between 1995 and 2005. Businesses created by immigrants generated $52 billion in sales and had 450,000 employees in 2005.

Foreign nationals now comprise the majority of scientists and engineers being trained in the U.S. for advanced degrees. For example, they account for 50% of master’s degrees and 70% of Ph.d degrees in electrical engineering. On an undergraduate level, foreign born residents earn 33% of all degrees in engineering, 27% of those in computer science, math and statistics, and 24% of those in the physical sciences. Each year vast numbers of students from abroad come to study in our universities, because the education they receive is superior to what they can get at home. Last year, 160,000 Chinese men and women were enrolled in American universities, about 60% of them pursuing engineering or science degrees. Yet our poorly conceived laws limit thousands of these scientists and engineers from obtaining jobs in our country after they graduate, even though they would prefer to stay and our high-tech firms would love to have them. We should be trying to lure these foreign graduates to work in America, rather than making it difficult for them to gain employment.

A Harvard Business School study found that almost half of the scientists and engineers with doctorates currently working in the U.S. were immigrants, and they accounted for 67% of the increase in American scientists and engineers between 1995 and 2006. The need for these educated foreign born workers will only grow as the Baby Boomers age and retire in the years ahead.

At the same time that immigration laws block many foreign-born scientists and engineers from working in America, China and India are actively recruiting those that are here, providing outsized bonuses and other inducements. As a case in point, according to the New York Times, China has been offering experienced professors and researchers bonuses of approximately $158, 000 to come back home.

The flow of these university graduates to their native countries from the U.S. can be considered a reverse brain drain, inverting the expected pattern of immigration. Federal funds subsidize the education of these scientists and engineers with grants to the universities they attend, aiding the economies of other nations and helping them to compete against us. America also loses the tens of thousands of patents and new technology these foreign scientists and engineers would have developed in our country, which would have created more jobs. These go instead to the nations to which they’ve returned.

Opposition to allowing more foreign scientists and engineers to work in America has come from some unions who claim that they drive down wages for American workers. Since there are jobs going unfilled in the high-tech fields because there are not enough scientists and engineers, the charge appears ludicrous. And foreign workers in these firms receive salaries that for the most part are comparable to American workers. In addition, immigration agency bureaucrats have complicated the processes that foreign-born scientists and engineers must go through to work in the United States, making it more difficult for them to obtain jobs. But the real problem lies with the politicians hostile to immigration who have been against increasing the visas for educated workers.

Given the paucity of American students seeking advanced degrees in science and engineering, we should be handing out green cards and welcoming any potential workers or entrepreneurs in the high tech sector. We should also provide them with easier paths to citizenship so they will be more likely to remain. It will only benefit our economy in the long run.

Resurrecting Democracy

em>A VietNam vet and a Columbia history major who became a medical doctor, Bob Levine has watched the evolution of American politics over the past 40 years with increasing alarm. He knows he’s not alone. Partisan grid-lock, massive cash contributions and even more massive expenditures on lobbyists have undermined real democracy, and there is more than just a whiff of corruption emanating from Washington. If the nation is to overcome lockstep partisanship, restore growth to the economy and bring its debt under control, Levine argues that it will require a strong centrist third party to bring about the necessary reforms. Levine’s previous book, Shock Therapy For the American Health Care System took a realist approach to health care from a physician’s informed point of view; Resurrecting Democracy takes a similar pragmatic approach, putting aside ideology and taking a hard look at facts on the ground. In his latest book, Levine shines a light that cuts through the miasma of party propaganda and reactionary thinking, and reveals a new path for American politics. This post is cross posted from his blog.

Image via Shutterstock.com

Author: ROBERT A. LEVINE, TMV Guest Voice Columnist

Political junkie, Vietnam vet, neurologist- two books on aging and dementia. Last book on health care reform- Shock Therapy for the American Health Care System. New book on the need for a centrist third party- Resurrecting Democracy- A Citizen's Call for a Centrist Third Party- will be available early October 2011

  • The_Ohioan

    My experience, admittedly limited, with Chinese and Indian scholastic immigrants is that they will do just about anything to stay in the US. The Chinese, especially, have no wish to return to mainland China, though they would consider the non-mainland cities – except the living expenses are so atrocious.

    The ones that want to stay seem to be able to do so – I don’t know what their secret is. It’ true the economic downturn has convinced a lot of them to return home, but I think it’s that rather than immigration problems that is the impetus.

  • http://www.robertlevinebooks.com ROBERT A. LEVINE, TMV Guest Voice Columnist

    A Harvard Business School report noted that H-1B visas for immigrants fluctuated between 65,000 to 195,000, from 1995 to 2008. Thus, some years it’s been easier for scientists and engineers to get jobs in America, and other years it’s been much harder. But we should actively try to get as many people with advanced degrees as we can.

  • DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

    “But we should actively try to get as many people with advanced degrees as we can.”

    Agree! Even if they may not be “the pick of the litter” in other respects…

  • RP

    Seems like this shows how disfunctional our federal government is in many areas.
    1. A broken immigration policy including non skilled workers when Asparagus growers in Washington state have to let crops rot because they can not get labor to harvest them.
    2. A broken education system where American schools are not educating children to be qualified for higher education in the fields of engineering and science.
    3. A broken Labor department tat protects unqualified union workers at the expense of qualified foreign workers.

    It is time for the federal government to go trough a complete reformation and to get out of the way of progress like it did for 200 years that made this country great.

  • STinMN

    Every time I see “engineering shortages” studies I check the origin of the study and what their goal is. My experience with Harvard Business School grads is that they are overwhelmingly focused on costs, usually at the expense of doing the job even half-right because that would cost real money. Engineering is a cost center in most companies, not a profit center, so anything that can be done to reduce engineering expenditures goes straight to the bottom line. Constant churn of the engineering staff is encouraged to eliminate the high-priced experienced engineers and keep the staff young, and more importantly, cheap. If there isn’t a constant stream of new engineering grads this model falls apart.

    Technical schools have their own goal – without a constant stream of new engineering students coming in they cannot justify their existence. There are too many mediocre engineering schools in the US, and many have resorted to pumping out graduates that are ill-equipped to work in the real world. Most of them have strong computer skills (modeling and analysis) but have no practical or even hands-on lab experience. Computer skills we can easily teach, but engineering skills are much more difficult. But the schools don’t care, as long as they can enroll enough students they are doing their job.

    There is no engineering shortage in the US. There is a shortage of companies willing to pay a reasonable wage for reasonable experience. An engineering mistake can cost the company millions or even 10’s of millions of dollars, yet keeping an experience engineer who knows how to avoid the mistakes is far too expensive. The solution put forth is to document our “lessons learned” so other engineers can avoid the same mistakes. Great idea, but no one will ever be given enough time to read all these documents, let alone remember them all, and young engineers typically don’t have sufficient background to even know why these are problems that need to be avoided. Companies have made it abundantly clear that they do not value engineering experience and force the experienced engineers out.

    I’ve been one of the lucky ones, I’ve been a working technical specialist for almost 30 years, but my time at my present employer is coming to an end. I was recently promoted to a technical staff position that will have me overseeing a large number of projects with the intent that I can spread my experience on the projects without being actively involved. Great in theory, but I know that, like those who have been “promoted” to these positions in the past, I will be found to lack the up-to-date technical knowledge in 3-5 years and will be asked to leave the company. Just like the guy who left and opened the position for me.

    By the way, the use of the title “Engineer” is legally incorrect. The only people that can legally call themselves “Engineers” are those that have passed a recognized Professional Engineers exam, licensed boiler operators, and train locomotive operators. Anyone else is legally prohibited from using the title “Engineer.” If it is this shortage we are talking about, I agree, there is a shortage of engineers – who knows how many trains can’t be used because they don’t have enough locomotive engineers. But if it is a “Technical Specialists” (the usual title given those with engineering degrees) shortage we are discussing, it is a manufactured shortage.

  • Jim Satterfield

    Ah, STinMN beat me to it. The way it works is first you post an ad full of very specific qualifications for the technical position. Oddly, no American qualifies for one reason or another. Then you hire someone on an H1-B who really wants to stay in the U.S. so they’ll work any number of hours, never ask for a raise, never take any time off for vacation or illness or do any of those other horrible things that Americans think they have a “right” to because it’s part of their employment agreement. Then there’s the tactic that one company actually got in trouble for once. See, the law says that H-1B visa holders must be paid the prevailing wage for the area they’re being hired in. So a company sets up in Iowa or some other fairly low wage place compared to Silicon Valley. Then they “hire” an immigrant and send them on to a client in Silicon Valley while paying them the average wage for their job in Iowa. Remember, training an employee is a cost center. A waste of money. American business’s worst enemy is American management, IMO.

  • STinMN

    Jim Satterfield is right on target.

    Just to tell you how “bad” the engineering shortage is, at my present employer our group has had 2 openings posted this year, 1 for a senior software architect, the second for an entry level electrical engineer. Both are growth positions, a good sign, but both remain unfilled.

    For the senior software architect we had 200+ applicants but only 1 was deemed as meeting the qualifications. 20% of the applicants were unemployed. Our manual examination of the applications showed at least 35 suitable applicants but only 1 met 100% of the listed qualifications and thus was the only applicant HR was willing to spend any time on. By the time we contacted the applicant he had found another position and was not interested.

    For the entry level electrical engineer position we had 350+ applicants and 3 were deemed as meeting the posted qualifications. 35% of the applicants were unemployed. Our manual examination showed 50+ applicants as potential candidates, but only the 3 meet 100% of the posted qualifications. By the time we contacted the 3 applicants they all were no longer interested in the position.

    Both positions are likely to be filled in our India division instead of here in the USA. They don’t need to meet the 100% posted qualification requirement and thus can hire a well qualified applicant that will be unable to perform the job function, just like all the other engineers they have hired.

    One thing this pointed out was how much gatekeeping HR performs. We asked our local rep about the posted qualification requirement and it turns out Engineering is the ONLY area in the company where the applicant needs to meet 100% of the listed qualifications. Most other areas required 80% or less. The HR rep didn’t even try to hide the fact that they are actively working to reduce engineering costs and they are actively working to reduce the average engineer’s tenure with the company to less than 10 years, otherwise we become too costly.

    US companies have quit trying to be technical leaders. Being a technical leader is just too costly for their poor stockholders to bear. A true short-term play, but I wonder what the stockholders will think when the companies will not be able to compete and finally go away.

  • rudi

    Why go through the rigors of science and engineering when the pay at the lower ends stinks compared to MBA’s and the financial sector. What is more lucrative, the next MBA moving to Bain or a s/w language developer?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R.....anguage%29

  • http://www.robertlevinebooks.com ROBERT A. LEVINE, TMV Guest Voice Columnist

    Aside from working in established businesses, immigrants with high-tech skills start their own businesses that provide jobs for other Americans. We should try to attract and keep as many of these people as we can to bolster our economy. Members of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness in 2011 emphasized the problems with our immigration policy and the need to “recruit and retain the world’s best brains.” They suggested that “a green card be stapled to every advanced diploma in critical fields to keep foreign born students graduating from a U.S. university or college here in America, working for our future.”
    More brains, more patents, more high-tech firms, more jobs.

  • DaveFrancis

    Simplify illegal alien enforcement problem, by enacting it as a FELONY to enter this sovereign nation. This should have been run through our whimpering Congress long ago; instead they allowed pressure groups to influence them. This will not happen under a Tea Party Congress, that will stifle any new laws so illegal aliens can gain any kind of amnesty. Our laws are a travesty and are soft on punishment. Put businesses that don’t use E-Verify in mandatory jail, along by seizing assets and harsh fines. Award Whistle blowers who detect illegal aliens working in companies to ICE. Amend the Birthright Citizenship law so no children smuggled into the U.S. are only eligible for citizenship, if one parent is born in America or a naturalized citizen. This will discourage illegal migrants and immigrants arriving here as they have for decades, through neglect at our borders and other entry ports.

    Employment visas should only be granted to professional people and STEM workers (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) workers to the U.S. in an expedited process. The Constitutional TEA PARTY is gaining in power and will unseat liberal Democrat-Republican pro-illegal immigration politicians, derailing open border zealot ideologies. Lastly we must oversee all elections, as Democrats are indifferent to illegal aliens voting, which is carefully hidden; surf the Internet for information on voter fraud and ID theft that has been gaining momentum in the last two decades. Read the latest regularizes by zeroing in on Florida.

    Alabama, as Arizona and the 48 states are up against the wall of harsh forced unfunded mandates by U.S. courts. Every state is confronted by billions of dollars to pay for illegal immigration in public welfare. The cost to Alabama for Costs for Illegal Aliens as studied by The Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIRUS) it was $2.7 billion dollars owing to the growing illegal alien population. But of course nobody knows the true amount as figures for population and the costs to support these people are kept subdued. But the majority of Americans are well aware that according to studies of FAIRUS and other pro-sovereignty organizations, that annually the expenditure is well over $113 billion dollars. In addition organizations have completed their own studies, that if another Amnesty was enacted we would raise our U.S. treasury deficit from 16 Trillion dollars, by another 2.6 trillion dollars. Many groups and media aspire to offer information about the movement and costs of illegal immigration into this country, but much is not factored in to taxpayer’s outlay and intelligence which can be found at the websites of American Patrol and NumbersUSA.

    Sen. Marco Rubio, Mitt Romney had better stick to their principles, and they promised the taxpayer that passages of new negative immigration laws will not be tolerated, but only those in the best interests of the people. Americans are frustrated with the draining of their money to subsidize any person who crosses the border, including the escalation of births to illegal aliens and then claiming citizenship when the annual figure is 400.000. Any thoughts of gaining passage of Amnesty by either party will condemn the majority of states to even more need for health care treatments, hospital inpatients for dialysis and serious surgeries all for free. These are more costs dumped eventually on taxpayers of uncompensated care from the central government. Awarding education for hundreds of thousands of illegal children, who can claim citizenship under a very shaky law, which is destined to reach the Congress thanks to Rep. King? In less than 15 years are schools are overrun by illegal children who cannot speak English, necessitating more time spent by teachers and therefore affecting the failing grades across the country in education.

    Of all the politicians that must be thrown out of office, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada must go. Not only has he derailed a amendment to stop illegal aliens living in this country, receiving mostly fraudulent IRS child tax reimbursement, to the tune 0f 4.2 billion dollars, he has done nothing to halt the influx of foreign nationals occupying Nevada. The tired old lawmaker has guaranteed that those working in this country illegally will be sustain in receiving billions of dollars in tax reimbursement for children that are not even present in this country. He is responsible for stopping ICE from raiding the building construction sites, but clandestine inviting mass illegal aliens into the state. The TEA PARTY must adjoin to seat a new younger Senator leader in his place, as he is just one of the liberal-Democrats, involved in wrecking this country’s economic return.

    By passing another Comprehensive Immigration Reform would devastate our economy. ICE prohibited programs as the Democrats Dream Act, the Sanctuary policies has its costs, to all taxpayers and further encouraging the exploitation of the American low income worker. Less enforcement also has a negative impact, as Obama administration stands down from proceeding with large scale ICE raids or the deportation of all individuals. Years of complete indifference by both political parties to securing the borders, interior ‘seek and detain’ has allowed large influxes of criminal illegal aliens, with many reentering time and time again. The fact that illegal alien expectant females are procuring even more billions of dollars in education and schooling for their children, if once stepping on to U.S. soil, or disguising their pregnancy when alighting from aircraft, with a design to take advantage of the ‘Birthright Citizenship’ law badly manipulated from its original intent.

    There are obstacles in Congress by both sides of the aisle, but even so 59 bipartisan sponsors to amend this law. Similar is to mandate the very controversial E-verify bill, that instead of voluntary for businesses, so it becomes the rule of the land. That every business, no matter how large and small must authenticate their workers, showing they are eligible to work in the United States. This is a very strength of every voter, to stop the continuation of these wrongly enacted laws, to amend Birthright Citizenship, so one parent must be a U.S. citizen, by birth or naturalization. All voters must fight back and demand from your Senator or House Representative that E-verify must be implemented permanently and Birthright citizenship be amended.

    Neither new law costs money, but will save absolutely billions in YOUR taxes. The controversial publicity around ‘Chipotle’ is typical of businesses that think they are above the law, when hiring workers. Cheap labor is for profiteers, who have no conscious hiring foreigners, when there are thousands of legal Hispanics who would in this recession; jump at a chance of a job? As an addition ‘Secure Communities’ is now a mandatory law, so all suspects taken into custody will have their fingerprints sent to Homeland Security and ICE. But we must push the idiots in Washington, to pass mandated E-Verify and the amendment to the Birthright Citizenship Act.

    E-Verify as nationwide push of enforcement have a 98 % successful program, that detects foreign labor and unable to verify, they will start to expedite departure to their home countries. All these policies, rules and regulations is the agenda of the monumental growth of the Constitutional TEA PARTY splinter group of the Republican Party. Both entrenched parties are nervous of this rise of a national party, which they cannot control.

  • grNadpa

    LeVine, did you even read STinMn and Satterfield’s comments?

    Even if, as you claim, “more … jobs”, who will invest in training the professionals to fill them, American corporations, government? Not so far.

    I spent 35 years as a mainframe application developer. I’ve been published, I’ve spoken at international conventions, I’ve served on the boards of technical associations. Late in my career, I acted in both a technical and administrative capacity as liaison to over 300 India programmers brought to the United States by a multinational corporation.

    What do suppose came of my requests for corporate-supported training to enhance my technical skill sets for the desktop and web? Denied. Flat out. Cheaper to arrange for the Visas and transportation for the already-trained.

    I’d go on, but I’ll be late for my part-time school bus driving responsibility.

  • The_Ohioan

    ST & JS are right. When the millenium date problem (Y2K) was almost upon us, rather than recruit us old COBOL programmers who had retired and have us do a little catch-up training, many Republicans and a few Democrats were pushing for H-1B applicants instead.

    http://www.zazona.com/ShameH1B/PoliticalQuotes.htm

  • http://www.robertlevinebooks.com ROBERT A. LEVINE, TMV Guest Voice Columnist

    The fact remains that American students are not going into science or engineering and our universities are training foreign scientists and engineers. To remain globally competitive, we need these people to stay in the U.S. as emphasized by the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. The Council included the COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO of Intel, Paul Otellini, Steve Case and John Doerr, all of whom wrote the article on the need for changes in immigration policy.

  • STinMN

    Mr. Levine,

    While I will not argue with the fact that American students are not going into science or engineering, this isn’t a crisis for the global companies. They long ago decided that American engineers were just too darn expensive, and have steadily be moving the engineering off shore. The engineering doesn’t have to be in the US, it just has to be present in some form. Whether it is in Detroit or Karachi doesn’t matter to the business as long as the function gets done. The semiconductor industry, an industry the American government, military, and businesses invented, has been given away to foreign companies, all in the name of profits. I expect no less to happen to the remainder of American businesses that employ engineers.

    The Fortune 50 company I work for current has a larger engineer staff in India than the remainder of its facilities worldwide. The MBAs long ago decided actual technical knowledge was too expensive to deal with and have off-shored it, with the blessings of the US Gov’t.

    We can whine all we want but engineering jobs are never coming back to the US. Companies like Intel and Facebook are the exception, not the rule and will likely face shareholder resistance to increasing any engineering in the US. I know that has already happened at Intel. I expect once the facebook shareholders figure out how much that engineering is costing them they will insist the company takes cost cutting measures as well. Like I said earlier, I’ve been working as an engineer for almost 30 years, yet I will actively discourage any student from entering engineering. There is simply no future for engineering in the US. Until businesses start putting a realistic value on engineers like they down sales personnel, engineering is a dying profession in the US.

  • slamfu

    Lets face it. This country is having the same problem that everyone in the #1 spot has. You start to take it for granted and you lose your edge. We’ve had it so good for so long as a nation we’ve taken our foot off the gas when it comes to things like education. Kids are not taking math and science because its hard. And their parents aren’t making them work at it. I’m not saying we need to go all tiger mom, but there is a general lack of respect for hard science in these parts. Conservatives have decided colleges = liberal factory so a lot of the rhetoric from the right hasn’t help much either. Of course on the left you’ve got a pro college but more liberal arts and humanities focus. We’ll slip into second place sometime in the next 20 years, then we’ll catch up with gusto after we get over the initial shock.

  • davidpsummers

    I can’t claim any great experience on the issue of how tight our immigration policy should be (which I will briefly note, in response to one comment, is a completely separate issue of illegal immigration). I will say that for _scientist_ with some experience, its not like jobs are just sitting around to be taken.

  • Jim Satterfield

    Mr. Levine,

    Have you asked yourself why they aren’t going into those fields? Could it possibly be that they see how the deck is stacked against them in favor of H-1B holders and shipping jobs overseas so they don’t see a future in it? I don’t know how many times I’ve read comments from people in IT who say they wouldn’t recommend their kids go into it because they see the writing on the wall. The people you cite say one thing in public and then do the opposite when actually making business decisions. If you want people to do years of hard work just to go into a field, don’t set it up to where their jobs are as reliable as Arctic Ice in July 2100.