Large corporations that rely on skilled foreign workers are urging Congress not to pass short-term fixes that will later cause problems when the economy recovers. In the boom times of the late 90s, Ingersoll-Rand Corp. had to take people off the payroll when the H-1B hiring cap was lowered, Elizabeth Dickson, adviser for Immigration Services at Ingersoll-Rand in Woodcliff Lake, N.J., told lawmakers Tuesday.
"When the [foreign worker hiring] cap reverts to 65,000, we are going to have a lot of problems that we experienced both in 1997 and 1998," Dickson said. "If we have a recovering economy, what are our needs going to be long term?"
The root of the problem, according to the industry officials, is that Americans earn too few graduate degrees in the hard sciences, leaving the domestic pool of adequate engineering specializations too small. Contrary to some assertions, industry officials said they do not hire foreign workers to pay them less than they would pay Americans. Dickson told lawmakers that it is more expensive to hire foreign workers.
"We are mostly looking to hire U.S. workers. Theyre cheaper, and there are a lot less problems," Dickson said. "In the near term we simply must have access to foreign nationals. If we want to maintain a global edge, we want to have the best and the brightest working for us in the United States."
American engineers argue that corporate Americas use of H-1B visas exacerbates the problem of engineering unemployment. Abuse of the visa program, in particular, leaves qualified Americans out of work, according to John Steadman, president-elect of the IEEE-USA in Washington, D.C.
"If we continue down this path, the United States is making itself increasingly dependent of foreign technical expertise, both here and abroad," Steadman told lawmakers, urging the government to support programs that encourage more students—especially minorities and women—to go into the sciences.