Tech Worker Shortage, H-1B System Challenged

 
 
By Don E. Sears  |  Posted 2010-01-07 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

An ALF-CIO report pokes holes in U.S. guest worker programs and sheds light on the core issue of wage reduction for technical professionals in the United States and expanded entry of guest workers into newer fields such as health care and education. The report touches on the oft-cited abuse and mistreatment of guest workers from foreign countries, as well as closely examining near-stagnant wages for U.S. workers and H-1B visa holders.

Based on the research of the National Research Council, the Government Accountability Office, the Department of Education, the Computing Research Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the RAND Corporation and a host of other university research sources, the AFL-CIO labor organization published a report in December refuting the claim that there is a shortage of engineering, technology and scientific talent in the United States. This report comes from the Department of Professional Employees, which is an amalgamation of four AFL-CIO unions, including those representing IT workers, engineers, scientists, professors and other educators.

The report, entitled "Gaming the System: Guest Worker Visa Programs and Professional and Technical Workers in the U.S.," pokes holes in guest worker programs and sheds light on the core issue of wage reduction for technical professionals in the United States and expansion of guest workers into newer fields such as health care and education. The report touches on the oft-cited abuse and mistreatment of guest workers from foreign countries, as well as closely examining near-stagnant wages for U.S. workers and H-1B visa holders.

The report looks at real-world examples of wage abuse based on 2008 wages of several technical H-1B visa holders, including one whom Mabemah, based in Ocoee, Fla., paid $11.20 per hour for a Web developer job-well below the prevailing wage for that occupation. It also cites the example of a director of Medical Information Technology who made $11.90 an hour at The Pediatric Associates in Montrose, Colo. Tactics for wage repression of H-1B visa holders cited in the report include:

"Employers often set lower salaries by: selecting a survey source with the lowest salaries, misclassifying experienced employees as entry-level, giving an H-1B visa holder a lower job title than [his or her] work requires, or citing wages for a low-cost area of the country while the H-1B holder is unlawfully transferred to a higher-cost area."
The executive summary of the report expresses several of its key findings, (PDF) including U.S. graduation rates in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields:

"Claims of shortages necessitating these programs, especially in the STEM fields, have been widely disputed and are not borne out by basic economic indicators. A Congressionally-mandated study released by the National Research Council found that, "the current size of the H-1B workforce relative to the overall number of IT professionals is large enough to keep wages from rising as fast as might be expected in a tight labor market. ... If a genuine labor shortage existed, wages in these fields would have risen dramatically in ways they have not. ... In addition, unemployment rates in this sector have increased dramatically over the past year, with engineers reaching their highest unemployment rate since at least 1972. Graduation rates in the STEM fields also indicate that the United States is producing enough graduates to meet the employment needs of the industry."
"This whole concept of shortages is bogus; it shows a lack of understanding of the labor pool in the USA," Videk Wadhwa, a professor at Duke University's Master of Engineering Management Program, said to Baseline Magazine in 2008. Wadhwa also rejected the shortage notion based on wages.

"It doesn't add up. We live in a free economy," Wadhwa told Baseline. "If we were sitting in a government-controlled economy it would be one thing, but in a free economy what happens ... when shortages begin to develop is that prices rise and the money compensates for the shortage."

Yet, even with an abundance of technically able graduates in the United States, according to the report, many in the field are rejecting these areas for fear of being outsourced. The AFL-CIO report said:

"A study by Rutgers University released in October 2009 found that while the U.S. is still producing enough skilled graduates in core STEM disciplines to fill industry needs, many highly qualified U.S. students in STEM fields leave the "pipeline" from STEM college major to STEM career possibly based on perceptions that STEM careers are highly susceptible to offshoring."

The report also took a stab at the U.S. government's lack of reporting on the H-1B visa program as mandated by law and said USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) has not released a fully updated report since 2005. text

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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