As the immigration issue has heated up here in Washington, numerous politicians have proclaimed the need–and introduced legislation–to admit additional high-skilled foreign workers to counter the nation’s imaginary shortage of technical skills. We at Science Careers have, of course, spent the last decade or more pointing out that no such dearth–but instead a sizable surplus–of scientifically and technically trained people exists in this country.
Perhaps the message would have a better chance of reaching lawmakers in a higher-profile publication. Today, an op-ed in the New York Times entitled “America’s Genius Glut” gives it a try.
Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute, a non-partisan (but liberal-leaning) DC think tank, points out that the
proposed legislation aims to solve “a problem we don’t have” and that
it would in fact “flood the job market…; damage the employment
prospects of thousands of skilled Americans; and narrow the educational
pipeline that produces these skilled workers domestically.”
have said it better ourselves! But will Eisenbrey’s cogent comments
convince Congress members where ours have failed? The proposed
legislation’s sponsors, such as Sen. Orin Hatch (R-Utah), Eisenbrey
notes, are acting “with the sponsorship of high-tech companies like
Microsoft and I.B.M.” Those corporations, of course, benefit when
flooded labor markets–not to mention the indenture-like restrictions
inherent in the H-1B visa–permit lower pay and docile workers. So,
despite the undoubted clout of a piece in the Times, the prospect of changing Congressional minds made up to match powerful economic interests seems dim at the moment.
protests from the American scientists, engineers, and tech workers whom
the proposals would harm might have an effect. As usual, however,
their voices have as yet been absent from the discussion. So perhaps
the real knowledge gap we have in this country is not a lack of
scientific or technical expertise, but an understanding of the basic
principle of legislative democracy: Citizens affected by political
decisions will be ignored unless they act to protect their interests.