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Science Careers Blog

February 8, 2013

Some Immigration News That's Fit to Print

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."

Couldn't 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. 

Perhaps 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.

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