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A Brief Note on Immigration and American Science

There’s an article out today from John Maraganore (CEO of Alnylam, immediate past chair of the BIO industry group) and his successor at BIO, Jeremy Levin (CEO of Ovid Therapeutics). They’re making the point that the current administration’s restrictions on legal immigration (real, attempted, and threatened) are a direct threat to the biopharma industry.

And they’re right. The process can be abused, and it has been. But those problems shouldn’t overshadow the much bigger point that the United States has long been a place where the world’s scientific talent has come to study, to work, to discover, and to live. This has been a huge factor in the country’s rise to its leading role in science and technology, and it’s important to remember that there is no law of nature that says that the United States always has to have that role. There was a time when the US was something of a backwater – the really exciting work was all in Germany, France, England, and other places. If we really put our minds to it, we can become a backwater again. There are many, many other countries in the world that recognize the importance of both basic and applied research and would like to attract talented, hard-working people to their own efforts. These folks don’t have to come to the United States – they can go somewhere else. If we keep yanking the welcome mat away, that’s just what they’ll do. Who would blame them?

The US still has world-leading research, both in its universities and in its companies. But the universities can go downhill, and the companies can choose to do their work somewhere else. Decline can be a choice, and I think that taking a nativist approach is definitely one way that you can choose it. Anyone who is fine with shutting off immigration because they take an attitude of “American research in American labs done by Americans” needs to think through what we mean by “American”. This is a place, but it’s more than a place: it’s an idea. My neighbors include a family from India and a family from China, but they are Americans to me. Their children went to school with mine. I’m glad that they’re here.

My coworkers over my research career have come from more countries than I can count, and many of them have become American citizens and raised families here as well. To adapt a phrase, they are helping make this country great. That’s how we got whatever greatness we have, and anyone who thinks we can keep it by slamming the door is deeply mistaken.  That will cut off the flow of new talent that has been coming here from all over the planet, and it will help to drive away some of the people that have already come here but start to regret that choice. As a patriotic American myself, I think that would be a tragedy, and an idiotic one because it was unnecessary and all of our own making.

120 comments on “A Brief Note on Immigration and American Science”

  1. Former researcher says:

    The process can be abused, and it has been. But those problems shouldn’t overshadow the much bigger point that the United States has long been a place where the world’s scientific talent has come to study, to work, to discover, and to live.

    Yes the immigration process has been abused. Few would want to prevent the actual best and brightest from abroad from studying and working in the US.

    But the reality is somewhat more complex. In extreme cases, employers hire workers on H-1 visas to keep salaries down and force Americans to compete with others who will work 1.5x time for no bonus in order to stay in the US.

    Employers also use the large global talent pool to enact “up or out” HR policies, so that senior scientists and engineers are forced out. Will the best and brightest Americans continue to choose careers in science when it necessitates a lengthy graduate training and offers dubious long-term career stability?

    1. Daniel says:

      Will the best and brightest Americans continue to choose careers in science when it necessitates a lengthy graduate training and offers dubious long-term career stability?

      In my early career experience, the “best and brightest” researchers have been the first to find the exit.

      1. Mister B. says:

        Exit … To the management position in Science (In my small experience)

      2. kjk says:

        Life science may have a glut of people, but engineering much less so. Computer coding alone has about 1 million unfilled jobs despite all the outsourcing.

        1. Steve says:

          Data from the Census Bureau confirmed that a stunning 3 in 4 Americans with a STEM degree do not hold a job in a STEM field—that’s a pool of more than 11 million Americans with STEM qualifications who lack STEM employment. The US Census shows that of those college graduates who majored in Computers, Mathematics and Statistics (1,959,730), 50.81% did not hold a job in a STEM field (i.e., Computer Workers, Mathematicians and Statisticians, Engineers, Life scientists, Physical Scientists, and Social Scientists). Of those who majored in Engineering (3,340,430), 50.54% did not hold a job in a STEM field[1].

          These are constantly growing numbers: Rutgers Professor Hal Salzman, a top national expert on STEM labor markets, estimates that “U.S. colleges produce twice the number of STEM graduates annually as find jobs in those fields.”[2]

          There’s a glut of untapped STEM-trained domestic workers. Employers just want cheap, foreign guest workers below the age of 35[3].

          [1] US Census Bureau (2014), “Census Bureau Reports Majority of STEM College Graduates Do Not Work in STEM Occupations”, Release Number: CB14-130, July 10, 2014

          [2] Salzman, Hal (2014), “STEM Grads Are at a Loss”, U.S. News, September 15, 2014

          [3] U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (2020). “Characteristics of H-1B Specialty Occupation Workers, Fiscal Year 2019”, Annual Report to Congress, March 5, 2020

          1. somedude says:

            One anecdote as confirmation: a salary of my international friend working for a major software company pre-Green card was significantly below the market. Because his immigration status (L1) did not allow changing employer he had no lever against employer. Now he’s got the green card and gets offers at +30% salary from other companies. His manager is OK with matching the offers but HR won’t agree because technically there’s no rationale for such an increase. So now they have to invent a more intricate scheme of relocating him to an area with lower cost of living so that salary increase won’t be as high on paper. Otherwise they’d have to admit that they used his immigration status as a tool to keep salary low.

          2. aravind ramaswamy narayan says:

            Why this obsession with the ” best and the brightest” ?. The US is so full of morons, the avg intelligence will surely rise, even if the migrants are not the best and the brightest…, as long as the median immigrant is not a very stable genius, everyone is better off.

      3. Speaking only for Life Sciences, I’d say that the US graduate school system is far and away the longest on the planet. (see: – preview opens in a new window). Would anyone turn down a newly graduated PhD from the UK, Australia, or Germany? Would anyone turn down a US student who had gone there to do their PhD?


        1. DrEvil says:

          I interview dozens of post-doc candidates every year. The European ones that are interesting have usually done a 3 year Masters followed by a 3 year Ph.D. It isn’t unusual to find that they still haven’t a clue what they’re talking about. I have found similar students from 3rd tier US programs, but they are rarer. I have taken to considering many continental Ph.D. students half-baked, and needing substantial refinement before they can work a project.

    2. Anon says:

      “…workers on H-1 visas to keep salaries down”
      Not true. H1B salaries are not secret. They are public..If you are curious, you can look them up and see what they are getting paid.

    3. Derek Lowe says:

      We need to find a way to keep that sort of abuse from happening without locking the gates. But that’s hard work and the solutions are still going to be imperfect, so politically it’s easier to shout and hop around so the folks in the back row can see you.

    4. johnnyboy says:

      I worked in a US Big Pharma company on a H1-B visa, some years ago. I was paid on exactly the same scale as my US citizen colleagues, and as my work is highly specialised the salary was fairly high.
      Am not saying that H1-B visas are never used to keep salaries down, but if that is the case it’s probably in other industries than pharma. And also keep in mind that scientist salaries in the US in general are higher by a mile than in any other Western country, so if employers are using H1-Bs to keep salaries down, they’re not doing a very good job of it.

      1. loupgarous says:

        In Big Pharma, it’s the support professions (like computer coding and statistics in the lower-mid levels) where H1-b visa workerss keep salaries down. The jobs where diploma mills are used overseas to create labor pools who’ll work cheap to begin with, and where coders and statisticians are trained to replace American workers who wind up resentful of the H1-b workers. Rare to see upper-level clinical statisticians working in the US on H1-b visas. I can’t speak about chemists.

      2. mymagoogle says:

        I completely agree, For these discussions, one has to separate Pharma from IT, because it is very different. And within Pharma, also differentiate the bench scientist pharma from the IT support pharma which is IT. (And also from all others such as the maths commentator down below.) (I don’t know what happens at Universities, in my mind Universities screw everyone over except full professors.)

        I have spent 20 years so far in Pharma as a scientist rising through the manager ranks, and at every company the H1B pay scale has been the same as for the US citizen. I know this as I have seen the pay scales and promotion discussions as a manager at both big pharma and start-ups.

        The only practical difference is that when the company is going down the tubes for a start-up or doing the latest round of operational efficiency for larger companies, the people who are at the right wrong part of the H1B – green card – citizen process have to stick around and endure. The US citizens take the package (if any), get out quickly and move onto what’s next.

        1. A former H1B says:

          I was actually under the impression that the H-1B salary had to be pegged to what US workers were being paid so that you couldn’t pay them less (or much less). Basically as a strategy to protect the visa holder from abuse.

          1. jconde says:

            Salaries are supposed to be the same, but speaking as someone in the IT field the only way I have ever seen H1B visa’s used is to suppress salaries for American workers. I have friends that were forced to spend their last weeks at a company training their foreign replacement to do their exact job for less money. Maybe it’s different in research fields but scrapping the entire system until there’s a better replacement is the right move.

    5. Adamantane says:

      “In extreme cases, employers hire workers on H-1 visas to keep salaries down and force Americans to compete with others who will work 1.5x time for no bonus in order to stay in the US.”

      This is actually more true than people will care to admit. I’m a US citizen PhD in organic chemistry trying to get my foot into the industry, and have been told by hiring managers (not in interviews, but at conferences over drinks) that a lot of places *prefer* H-1’s over US citizens for 2 reasons: salary and immobility.

      Norman Matloff explains it in his blog:

    6. x says:

      If locals were smart, they’d organize the immigrants.

  2. Hap says:

    If restricting immigration were about generating domestic capabilities (as opposed to, say, keeping people of other colors out of the US), shouldn’t there be a plan to do that? Tariffs would be part of such a plan but don’t seem sufficient to generate jobs and careers in the US. Improving US capabilities would also require intellectual openness that we seem to be rejecting, repeatedly (and a competent government at multiple levels, which we also seem to be rejecting).

    When Trump was running for President, his immigration policy was supposedly about reducing illegal immigration, and yet he seems to have pushed for reducing legal immigration while not doing much about the illegal sort (other than tilting at windmills, or walls). The emphasis on making legal immigration as onerous and degrading as possible while reducing its possibility (and not reducing its need) doesn’t fit with this narrative.

    This is what happens when you decide that the converse of Wheaton’s First Law is a good organizing principle for government.

  3. Student says:

    This seems to be preaching to the choir. Everyone (or almost everyone) already in STEM/academia knows the importance of international input to our research. I’d argue that anyone who doesn’t know the value of international input isn’t doing good research and won’t be going very far.

    But the people who are disenfranchised with this system are the lower/middle class Americans who feel that they’ve been locked out of STEM/academia by the liberal elite importing incredibly hardworking talent from abroad. Somehow, we need to make the case that taking the best and brightest from other countries is also benefiting those Americans who are being pushed out by the influx of talented foreigners. They don’t have as much stake in the quality of science as a whole, as they have in the quality of their own personal lives. What do we say to them, to show them the value of the foreign input? It can’t just be, “but the science is better with them instead of you,” regardless of how true that is, because that argument will never convince them that this is a good idea.

    1. Owen says:

      This is very well stated. The H-1B program as it exists is a disincentive to developing talent domestically.

      A solution here ought to have a consistent philosophy regarding the importation of talent and the domestic creation of talent, and not create a perpetually unbalanced playing field.

    2. JDK says:

      “But the people who are disenfranchised with this system are the lower/middle class Americans who feel that they’ve been locked out of STEM/academia by the liberal elite importing incredibly hardworking talent from abroad.”
      Maybe they are locked out by policy decisions that have made higher education unaffordable to these people. highly skilled immigrants have increased by 5% of the STEM workforce over the last 20 years (19 to 24%) while demand for skilled workers is growing (see Pew research for a breakdown). Immigrants are a convenient scapegoat for dissatisfaction but it would be better for all to focus on making the system work better for everybody.

      1. EJ says:

        Its not just policy decisions. University tuition, even at public institutions, is rising at an alarming rate, and no amount of subsidation would fix that:

        I suppose we need policies that reduce costs on their end/

        1. albegadeep says:

          I’d love to see some serious budget cuts at universities, to start getting them back to focusing on academics. When I was at a state school (~2000), they “had” to close the university library at nights for budgetary reasons (likely trying to make things look really bad to raise money), but the athletes had their own dedicated dining hall, we were still paying off the loans for the massive gym expansion, there were two student union buildings, and not too long after I graduated, the chancellor went somewhere else for a $500,000 *raise*.

          I can think of a few places where cutbacks can be made…

          1. NMH says:

            The problem is that universities cannot cut back the greatest source of waste: tenured faculty who are bad teachers and don’t bring in grant money (ie “deadwood” professors)

            I have taught at all levels of education (HS through uni classes at an R1) and there is a huge difference between the work load for say a community college instructor and that of an R1. R1 teaching responsibilities are minimal and a lot are taught by bad deadwood professors. Yet, the R1 school, as expensive as it is, cant correct this, because of tenure. So the budget cuts go to the wrong places, like lecturers who tend to be better teachers but are disposable because they are not protected by tenure,

          2. DrEvil says:

            Exactly. In real dollars, total faculty compensation at most schools has remained constant while total administrative compensation has risen astronomically. Just by paring the admin budget to what it was 20 or 30 years ago, college tuition could be brought back to earth.

        2. Mammalian scale-up person says:

          Or increase the supply of universities? I’m thinking of the old land grant universities that substantially increased both homegrown technology (at the time, advances in agriculture) and funded a lot of science in general – one of my grad schools had an excellent immunology department, founded largely on the previous work of an animal husbandry and breeding research program started in the 1930s. We’ve got a lot more people trying to get into college these days and not nearly as many available slots; I look at what my neighbors’ kids have to do to be considered by second-tier schools and I think with my high school grades and not enough time for many extracurriculars (like most working class kids, I had an after school job that precluded sports or clubs) I’d never have gotten into college at all, much less gotten a scholarship if I had to deal with this kind of competition – I couldn’t afford tutors or the exam prep classes.

          Most of my colleagues in STEM are middle- or upper-middle class because their parents could afford to have them do extracurricular activities, take on unpaid research projects and internships instead of working in high school and college, regardless of where they grew up. That’s a huge advantage. For those of us who got a 3.4 gpa while working three part time jobs, who couldn’t afford to take an unpaid internship in Professor Bigname’s lab, whose parents were uneducated themselves and had no idea how a university education works or what it’s good for, it’s a substantial disadvantage.

    3. EJ says:

      The lower/middle class does have a stake, its just not very apparent or taken for granted. The COVID19 crisis is a great example, as is whatever miracle of technology you’re reading this comment on.

    4. Steve says:

      “Somehow, we need to make the case that taking the best and brightest from other countries is also benefiting those Americans who are being pushed out by the influx of talented foreigners.”

      The wage rules for H-1B and green card sponsorship are broken down into wage Levels I, II, III and IV, with Level III being the median. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) put out a report on the H-1B visa that discusses at some length the fact that the vast majority of H-1B workers are hired at the entry-level wage level. In fact, most are at “Level I”, which is officially defined by the Dept. of Labor as those who have a “basic understanding of duties and perform routine tasks requiring limited judgment”. Moreover, the GAO found that a mere 6% of H-1B workers are at “Level IV”, which is officially defined by the Dept. of Labor as those who are “fully competent”.[1]

      This belies the industry lobbyists’ claims that H-1B workers are hired because they’re experts that can’t be found among the U.S. workforce.

      [1] GAO (2011). H-1B VISA PROGRAM Reforms Are Needed to Minimize the Risks and
      Costs of Current Program, GAO-11-26, January 2011.

  4. anon says:

    I think its easy to be supportive of immigration when you have a great job like that of a tenured faculty member or making well into 6 figs in big pharm. The reason is its quite possible that immigration will favor you as you get to hire cheap and very talented labor that is thrilled to be here.

    On the other hand, if you don’t have this great job and have to compete directly against this cheap and talented immigrant labor, you will probably think differently about immigration.

    I wish the leaders of the system, with their great well paid and protected positions, could emphasize a little more with those that dont have this kind job. But, in my experience, not to many university of faculty are capable of empathy. The just want the job done as cheaply and conveniently as possible.

    1. Adonis says:

      This seems to be my impression as well. The most vocal proponents are those whose labs are filled with foreigners. They dread the idea that they would have “deal with Americans” as I have often heard, presumably meaning that they would have to treat students and postdocs as people who have lives outside of the lab. Frankly, all of these pushes for increased immigration should come after honest effort has been made to generate enough domestic scientific labor.

      1. anonymous says:

        Case in point: And the immigrants in this Illinois lab were generating a lot of crap, not science:

      2. Nick K says:

        American post-docs and grad students can usually stand on their own feet and think for themselves. This tends not to endear them to domineering and autocratic PI’s.

      3. tt says:

        Your comment, and the related replies to it, are a really perfect example of implicit racism and the nativist attitudes that are destroying this country. If you can’t understand why your comment is offensive, then I would recommend you discuss it with some foreign born colleagues and gauge their reaction to being characterized as less troublesome compared to good old ‘merican students and post-docs.

        1. TT rebutal says:

          Does TT stand for tenure track, as in TT faculty? I, of course, have no doubt, because you think of yourself as a renaissance man (or woman), you are perfectly OK with full, unlimited immigration as it benefits you (cheap labor to hire) and you don’t have to compete with these people for a job. Its great to be a TT “renaissance man”, inviting the whole world to come to the US, when it will only benefit you and make you look good by virtue signaling. As usual, TT have little empathy for any one outside their ivory tower. The people too stupid to get to the tower deserve the competition and the accordingly low pay.

          1. tt says:

            Wow…you are wrong on every single account. Perhaps you should question your own judgements and assumptions of people. You are clearly not very adept at it.

  5. Erik Dienemann says:

    “My coworkers over my research career have come from more countries than I can count, and many of them have become American citizens and raised families here as well. To adapt a phrase, they are helping make this country great. That’s how we got whatever greatness we have, and anyone who thinks we can keep it by slamming the door is deeply mistaken. That will cut off the flow of new talent that has been coming here from all over the planet, and it will help to drive away some of the people that have already come here but start to regret that choice. As a patriotic American myself, I think that would be a tragedy, and an idiotic one because it was unnecessary and all of our own making.”

    Couldn’t have said it better, myself – exact same experience working for 30+ years at Merck in R&D. I loved the diversity of our staff, which usually made for great science, excellent teamwork, and much better ability to find really great restaurants.

  6. luysii says:

    What Derek is saying was true 60 years ago, 36 years ago and is still true now.

    For details —

    1. sure says:

      Oh great. Another of your ramblings about evil left, Obama and your Harvard memories…just what we need.

    2. c says:

      Wow Luysii I didn’t know that you went to Harvard! I don’t think you’ve mentioned that before!

      Looking forward to your next analysis on President Hilary Clinton’s health

  7. zero says:

    The average person who was born here has no idea how extreme the US immigration process is. It takes years, tens of thousands of dollars, deep background checks and multiple layers of bureaucratic fiat. Government officials can and will intrude on your life, search your home and question your friends whenever they feel like it. Any one of a thousand mistakes that would be no big deal for a citizen (think traffic tickets) can lead to an immigrant getting kicked back to their original country even if they’ve not been there in years. It is a precarious existence that people endure only because their belief in America is strong enough to support them.

    We should be making this easier, not harder. We should be spending the money necessary to do proper background checks, but we should also eliminate the colossal waste of time, money and talent that results from the current approach.

    1. JeffC says:

      OMG yes!!!!!! 100% agree. The immigration process (which I did pre-Trump) was awful. Now it is just extraordinary. I have two friends, who moved here, have two kids, both doctors working in pharma who simply cannot get their green cards. They live in a constant state off not knowing what will happen. They can’t leave the country but they don’t yet, after 3 years, have anything like a settle status.

      Yes, I read the comments about “immigrants” and know that very few people know what it is like to go through the legal immigration process, and know how precarious it is to be an immigrant in the US.

      Thank you for the comment. You are not alone

      1. My heart bleeds for your friends. I had exactly the opposite experience, thankfully. However, I came fairly late, in mid career. After we were pointed at a good Immigration shop (truly excellent in truth), we did the change of status, work authorization and GC application. The cost was not insignificant, and neither was the inconvenience, but hey – it’s a true privilege to be allowed to live and work in the USA, so, worth it. I had my green card in my hand seven weeks after applying (this was 2005).

        Good luck to your friends!

        1. eub says:

          JFYI “my heart bleeds for” is 100% always sarcastic HTH

  8. anonymous says:

    Even if it’s true, the consistent line I’m seeing from people like Derek that we have to import foreign scientists, engineers, etc because all the smart people are “out there” and Americans are too dumb to science might be…unpopular? Insulting? And again, it can be those things even if true. And that’s how it’s going to be perceived by average people. Honestly I’ve been shocked at how poorly “marketed” and tone-deaf the proponents of increased high-skilled immigration have been. And it completely ignores how large companies can abuse workers whose ability to remain in the country is conditioned on their continued employment at *one specific firm*. And as someone who’s friends with two people who have been forced to do the “train your H-1B replacement then you’re fired” thing, and someone who remains vulnerable to the same thing happening to me, I’d like to see advocates of increased H visas suggest real, workable solutions to that problem *before* demanding we restore or increase visas. Americans are already quite unhappy with off-shoring overall; seems like demanding ever more of them tolerate re-shoring the jobs but not the workers isn’t going to increase the popularity of immigration. One of the unexplored downsides of our newly expanded work from home world is that any job that you can do from anywhere can as easily be done by someone in another country for a lot less money. That’s going to be popular. The fortunes of immigration are not looking up.

    1. D says:

      Yes, and it’s quite frustrating the the managerial elite dismiss these claims as racism against immigrants when THEY are in fact considered the problem by most rational people. Hardworking immigrants, unfortunately, are just caught in the middle.

    2. Aaron F says:

      There are smart people in America and there are smart people elsewhere. IT’s more a question of what happens to those smart people.

      You could argue, for instance, that we’d have more talented scientists if our educational system wasn’t such a mess. I don’t know how much I’d buy that, but I could see it. You can CERTAINLY argue that people in impoverished areas (both outside the US and inside it) might be very talented if only they had the opportunity to be properly educated.

      But I definitely think you can say ‘well, smart people with lots of resources will go wherever the opportunities are, and we should make sure that they can go here rather than go elsewhere.’

      Among other thoughts on the subject, and honestly I could offer a lot of thoughts on the subject:

      You could go the China route, which is essentially trying to get capitalism to work for China instead of work for The West(TM) using its massive consumer base as a sort of bludgeon in addition to all the IP theft and industrial espionage and what not. Our current president makes a lot of overtures to this sort of effect, but he is not actually very good at it.

      You could say ‘well, immigrants only lower wages if they’re paid less than native workers, which isn’t automatically true’. I mean, there’s sense to it, right? Legal and undocumented immigrants alike are far more vulnerable than native workers, ie corporations can afford to pay them less. Now, I don’t know how true that is, and I’ve seen claims both ways, so I don’t feel too comfortable saying that’s a fact, but it’s kind of what I intuit?

      There’s also another argument which I’d like to bring up, which is the idea that immigration is going to increase in America as the birth rate decreases due to better education, contraception, etc. The argument goes that American capitalism needs More Consumers to continue infinite growth, ie capital will apply pressure, directly and indirectly, that results in a relative opening of borders.

      Of course, the search for infinite growth will also probably destroy the planet, sooooo

    3. Derek Lowe says:

      Please don’t put words in my mouth – and especially not those. I am *not* saying that all the smart people are “out there”, far from it. We have a lot of those people here, of course. But would we be even better off if smart people from the rest of the world aspire to come here? I think so, definitely, and I think that the number of discoveries and companies here that have their beginnings in such immigration should speak for itself.

      That said, I agree (as I said in the post) that the current system is open to more than one kind of abuse. Saying that, and wanting to do something about it, should not be taken as wanting to slam the gates shut with a “No Foreigners Allowed” sign hanging. Just as saying that immigration has been a huge net gain for the country does not mean that I think we should take in another billion folks as quickly as they can be dropped off. Those are the extremes, and there’s a lot of room between them for reasonable argument.

      1. Go back to pre-1965 says:

        I know you have no financial problems, but many Americans do. Why is it either crazy or racist to say “wage growth has stagnated since immigration to the US was opened up in the late 60’s/early 70’s, so why don’t we largely close down immigration until the labor market tightens up enough to promote healthy wage growth?” Why not go back to the immigration laws that were in effect when we built the atom bomb, created NASA, created the polio vaccine, invented jet aviation, etc?

        1. Rhenium says:

          Invented jet aviation? Air Commodore Sir Frank Whittle would like a word please…

        2. Derek Lowe says:

          Wage growth has been stagnant, but I believe that there are many factors contributing to that – immigration may well be one, but it’s not the only one. In real terms, US average hourly wages went up from 1964 to about 1973, then headed down until about 1995, and have slowly risen since then. I find it hard to reconcile that with immigration trends alone. Note as well that non-wage compensation has increased over the years – if you add that in, the trend looks more positive.

          1. Marko says:

            You , of all people , should appreciate that “average” wage growth figures don’t reflect what’s been happening to the bulk of American workers. The last paragraph in your linked article shows whose wallets that average wage growth has fattened :

            “… A recent Pew Research Center report, based on an analysis of household income data from the Census Bureau, found that in 2016 Americans in the top tenth of the income distribution earned 8.7 times as much as Americans in the bottom tenth ($109,578 versus $12,523). In 1970, when the analysis period began, the top tenth earned 6.9 times as much as the bottom tenth ($63,512 versus $9,212).”

            Similar caveats apply to non-wage comp. Many low-to-mid-wage workers receive little or no non-wage bennies. Those at the top uniformly receive gobs.

          2. Thomas says:

            Wage also depends on the power of the individual. Are your skills worth the money, or is all the value in the IP portfolio (or other infrastructure) of a few employers and is it impossible to work outside of that?
            That sounds more fundamental to me than he talent pool. And applies to all kinds of employees, not just knowledge work.

        3. Wavefunction says:

          Created the atom bomb? Done with the help of German and Eastern European scientists fleeing Hitler. Salk vaccine? Much of the credit for the actual work goes to Albert Sabin who was born in Poland and became a naturalized US citizen when he was 24. Salk’s mother herself emigrated to the country when she was 12. The problem with saying “Americans did it without immigrants” is that there is no such thing; even when there was less immigration than now, many of the most prominent Americans contributing to the country’s development were at least second or third generation immigrants. I am not saying that we shouldn’t reform our immigration laws or reduce immigration, only that the belief that everything was “homemade” in the good old days is an illusion.

        4. James Donovan says:

          Those are interesting examples. The concept of jet aviation was invented by a Brit.
          He did subsequently immigrate to the US where he was very influential in the Naval Academy.
          The polio vaccine was developed by Jonas Salk the son of immigrants.
          The trouble is: the US is becoming a far less attractive place for talented people. High crime, frequent mass shootings, health and education costs which can be orders of magnitude higher than other developed lands, unwalkable cities struggling from segregation and homelessness . The immigration rhetoric may be the nail in the coffin that keeps talented people from other developed lands out.

        5. Miles says:

          Ahem! Frank Whittle proposed the turbojet engine in 1928 and had one running in anger in April 1937..we gave you the jet engine as part of the Tizard Mission in 1940 – which also gifted the US radar and the atomic bomb. My father-in-law worked on engines at Roll Royce Aerospace all the way up to the RB-211, the first turbofan leading to the wide-body jet generation.

          My grumpy git rant over – international collaboration brings not just people but ideas ashore.

  9. Anon says:

    Outside the hype from both sides, here is the reality of the H-1B (and lesser known OPT) programs in STEM fields and software. 99.5% of these visas go to extremely average, mediocre people for precisely the reasons discussed above: cheap, captive, compliant labor that will keep its head down and work, the modern equivalent of serfdom…Only a very small percentage (perhaps .0.1%) of the total visas are granted to true “geniuses” or scholars of international “renown”. The process for gaming the system begins early for graduate students in US Universities, even one publication in an international journal is sufficient to claim “international renown status”. The OPT situation is even worse, at the current 3-year limit, it’s an easy way for employers to get cheap slave labor.

    All this comes at a chilling expense for US-born STEM graduates. In the software field, they compete against cheap foreign labor, in the life sciences, the situation is even more grim. The bulk of H-1B applicants with overseas degrees from degree-mill schools are barely proficient, but can be trained at low cost.

    This is a tough policy question which is even more urgent given the post-pandemic recession and unemployment. Current policy only benefits the capitalists/employers with cheap labor at the expense of everyone else. Like I said, a tough ethical quandry, but technically a national government should take care of its citizens first.

    1. B says:

      Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence – have any peer-reviewed sources to back your claims? In a relatively “short” industry/academia career (10-15 years), I’ve worked with hundreds of visa holders, including my spouse. Very, very few of these people have been mediocre in really any capacity, quite the contrary, exactly as the system was designed.

      1. Anon says:

        “Very, very few of these people have been mediocre in really any capacity, quite the contrary, exactly as the system was designed”

        Ask anyone in the software industry and you will get a very different answer. But: even in the life-sciences, the legalese around the H-1B talks about specialized skills and exceptional ability. Just because you slogged through a Ph.D. program doesn’t make you “exceptional”. Especially at the start of your career with zero experience. I may have used the adjective “mediocre” for shock value, but the reality is that these are average/normal scientists like others (nothing wrong with that) whose primary attractiveness is the constraint placed on them as H-1B dual-intent visa holders (low labor costs for employers).

        Still doesn’t answer the question whether in times of national crisis this visa option should be temporarily(?) restricted to address widespread unemployment/underemployment among the natives…if nothing is done, there will be the inevitable backlash, and we will set the stage for more demagogues (even worse than the current one) being elected in the future. Better to attenuate the inevitable xenophobia right now with some temporary “closing of the door”. It’s a tough situation, and the “wise” solution might differ from the ‘right” solution. Yeah, and some of my best colleagues were immigrants too 🙂

        1. Another immigrant says:

          Anon, I am not sure what is your standard for being “exceptional” . But only 2% of american adults have doctoral degree according to 2017 census. I would argue earning a Ph.D degree is quite exceptional, especially for immigrants who have to overcome considerable language and cultural challenges, and fight back bias and “inevitable xenophobia”!

          1. Anon says:

            Calling someone “exceptional” requires a comparison to their peers, in this case, other Ph. Ds in their field. No one begrudges hard working immigrants their accomplishments. The policy question being debated is whether the H-1B temporary visa program has been hijacked by employers/capitalists to import cheap, compliant labor at the expense of citizens. Unfortunately, the unpleasant but real answer is “Yes”. Trying to obfuscate the issue by bemoaning the loss of talent is a separate issue which can be addressed by rationalizing the visa requirements. There is a middle ground between the “no borders” and “build the wall” crowd where an honest policy debate can take place.

        2. yet another anon says:

          Maybe 99.5% of those people are “mediocre”, but if we entirely stopped them from coming, I don’t see there being enough even “mediocre” Americans to fill all of their positions. We’d have to settle for “bad”. Based on several years of teaching at university level, I think there just aren’t _that_ many Americans with talent and interest in STEM (many talented Americans choose other careers in business, law, etc.; on the other hand, a lot of talent is probably wasted because of problems in STEM education in high school and earlier) .

  10. steve says:

    Anyone who tries to claim that the children in cages and other outrages weren’t racism has to explain why LEGAL immigration has been halted as well. We’re supposed to be scientists so let’s just call it what it is based on the data and stop pretending otherwise. We’re all much worse off with an administration that ignores COVID (worst record in the world and STILL no national plan) and instead uses the crisis to promote their xenophobia. If they can find time for their agenda on immigrants why can’t they find time to put together a concrete plan to fight the worst pandemic in our history? Scientists have a duty to speak up.

  11. Peter S. Shenkin says:

    I’m concerned that the current political environment has led to disdain for expertise of every kind, including the scientific, as well as the view that anyone can do any job if they are just given training, as if all jobs require only minimal competence. Actually, very few jobs, even outside the sciences, fit that description.

    My experience is that in scientific work, at least, companies pay extra, not less, for the foreign workers they bring in, because of the need to support them for the H1-B visa and for green-card qualification. The reason we do this is that we bring in the best and the brightest from all over the world in whatever our particular field is. Despite the extra expense of bringing in foreign workers, we feel that the investment is worth it, because the best people, of whatever national origin, often enough contribute super-proportionally to the investment.

    You only need to look at the enrollment in the graduate programs in the science in American universities to see that Americans are often in the minority in the top-rated schools. And so it is across the board.

    1. Un Gaslightable says:

      The US was a backwater not because we didn’t have enough immigration, but because we started from scratch in terms of infrastructure and capital while Europe had millennia to build their own. It took us less than a century as a nation to be an industrial power that all Europeans realized would be a force to reckon with.

      Stop trying to gaslight us! Stop trying to pretend that increasing the supply of STEM workers, as well as the labor force in general, from just Americans to the entire world of 7 billion people isn’t going to have a downward effect on wages.

      Also, the glory post-WW2 days of a single working class income being sufficient to raise a family was during a period of extreme immigration restriction. Supply and demand applies to wages just as it does to other goods and services.

      1. c says:

        Accusing a reasonable comment like that of gaslighting is very obviously not in good faith. No surprise considering your anarcho-capitalist flag picture.

        Why even bother posting? Are you just trying to make yourself and your “team” feel good?

  12. Simon Auclair the Great and Terrible says:

    Anti immigrant and racist groups in our society today also tend to be vehemently antiscience.
    Thats probably the root of opposition to H1b visas

  13. Anonymous says:

    You could get rid of half of the people in Pharma and half in academia and not notice a difference in productivity, number of US patents, Output of new drugs, or the many publications generated by real or paper mill authors. This post while outlining a problem to some in Research, is not a threat to a majority of us in Research and sounds like fixed costs are rising for the Pharma industry. Grow up.

  14. OK this is very interesting, and it’s something I also had some thoughts about recently ( – link opens a new window). My overall belief is that by and large, anyone who is truly needed can be brought in on an “O”.

    My feelings are more in line with “Anon”, “Owen”, “Anonymous” and others, above. I’m also in agreement that the H (and J) programs fundamentally undermine the expectation that the US education system will provide the “human capital” to drive the US economy.

    As for outsourcing US jobs to overseas contractors that then come here on H-1Bs, that plain makes me angry.


  15. Zee Bendelstein says:

    Thanks for writing this.
    I know several very talented individuals with advanced degrees working in biopharma (on H1B) who are now leaving the US and it breaks my heart. They have families back in Europe, but current immigration moves were the trigger. I am sure these moves will increase in the months/years to come and perhaps this is the democratic will of the American people. Can we not find a way to cut out abuse without bleeding out talent?

  16. electrochemist says:

    My observation is that scientists working in the US on an H1B visa (at least in scientific areas) are not saving companies much (if any) money. In the companies I have worked for, they get relocation benefits, and their starting salaries are set by HR for the positions they take (the same as their America- born counterparts). It is a loss to the companies that hire them (and the US as a whole), if they cannot get a green card and stay in the US.

    Where I *have* seen abuses is in the IT sector. I have observed numerous people on F1 student (academic) visas working as limited duration contractors. As I understand it, these visas are intended to allow students to work for a year or so to gain additional knowledge (like an industrial post-doc). They are not designed to generate cheap labor to maintain SharePoint or help people unlock their laptops with a password change. I have worked with many people in this situation – they typically share an apartment with 4 or 5 other people, and share rides to work in a single car. After 12 months, they typically have to go back to their home countries, and the cycle starts over with new F1 visa holders to fill what are essentially permanent positions. I am not claiming these folks are being exploited, because such a situation may well be better than what they would face in their home countries. But there is no doubt that the temp agencies supplying labor this way are depressing salaries, and that the sponsor companies utilize these arrangements simply to hold down costs.

  17. It’s worth taking a look at the article by Maraginore and Levin that started this discussion (see DL’s original post). Frankly, it reads kinda pouty to me. A touch of veiled anti-Trump here, and a smidge or righteous indignation there, all baked in with oft-heard short-termism.. “covid… out of control… need foreign bright minds, etc”.

    Does the USA have such a problem with its higher education that we truly need “525,000 foreign workers” by the end of the year? I’m sure the answer is “No”. Do we as a Nation “depend” on foreign workers to drive our innovation?

    Perhaps we should consider *why* 44 percent of PhD (students?) are International and why we are not attracting young US graduates to these programs. Why not put those “grants and loans” the authors speak of in the hands of US graduates?

    I am completely sure that there are real needs in all industries that can be solved with talent brought in from outside the USA, but we are not doing ourselves any favors if we do not build first from within.


    oh – ps – people on F, J, H and O visas are *not* immigrants. Only Green Card Holders are “Immigrants” to the USA

    1. Anon says:

      “people on F, J, H and O visas are *not* immigrants. Only Green Card Holders are “Immigrants” to the USA”

      Exactly! Only the H-1B is considered “dual-intent” meaning it’s a non-immigrant visa that could be converted to “immigrant intent” on the road to a green card. Even 20 years ago (before the Y2K crisis which opened the doors to COBOL software coders primarily from India) the H-1B was a precarious journey to a green card. Nowadays, the expectation is almost a demand, that every H-1B be granted a green card and citizenship. I don’t think this is sustainable given the high unemployment ahead, as well as in struggling disadvantaged AA communities.

      Secondly, note a huge difference between US undergraduates and foreign students arriving for graduate school – the foreign students have barely any undergraduate college debt, whereas the typical US fresh graduate might have $40K+ in debt. Postponing earning for several more years in graduate school, then competing against OPT and H-1B holders for jobs…now you know why fewer and fewer citizens pursue graduate degrees in STEM fields. And that’s only part of the story, a lot of entry-level engineering and manufacturing technology jobs have already been offshored…very grim circumstances.

      But the employers will keep lobbying for more visas since it gets them cheap labor for 4-9 years till their immigration paperwork is in process.

  18. Dave says:

    When i graduated with a PhD in Mathematics, there were 1000 openings in Math in the country. 1000 new graduates…. and 1000 new immigrants, because there was a “genius exception” for entering PhD Mathematicians. These immigrants were coming with 10+ years of experience and lots of publications, driving down the salaries of newly minted mathematicians. (The salaries of entry high school librarians were higher than that of newly higher mathematicians in Michigan at the time.) The University I was at had made it more and difficult to get a PhD, because of the low job ratio. Only 1/2 of entry PhD candidates made it through qualifiers and only 1/2 of those who made it to Oral exams made it through those – and of course there was a lot of drop out both before and after that. My guess is that only about 5% of the entering PhD candidates made it through. Meanwhile, foreign students were given fellowships (I was told this was because they weren’t fluent enough in English to teach).
    As a result, I have a somewhat different view of the situation than many here.

    1. Math is not Stats says:

      Thanks for triggering my flashback to the same experience in the mid-90’s. After realizing I wasn’t the next Gauss and seeing the other already graduate-trained students outperform me I left mathematics for statistics and didn’t regret the choice at the time.

  19. anon says:

    What bothers me is that if you are for limited immigration in STEM just so that it increases your chance to get a more secure, better paying job (that you can raise a family with), you will be called a racist by those with secure, better paying jobs….

    1. Hap says:

      If people had wanted the immigration debate to be race-free (which would have been difficult in any case), then the popularity of Trump’s race-based immigration rhetoric (“s&*thole countries”, etc.) kind of killed that (although it was on life support before then, anyway). The close identification of people that don’t want more non-Caucasians in the US and the people that don’t want more immigration makes your position hard.

      It’s also kind of hard when little is done to deal with the labor market other than restrict immigration. Tariffs might help, but not much with our sources of immigration (we have the new version of NAFTA), and Trump and his people have been about allowing businesses to do whatever they want while making sure government can’t do anything. It’s sort of hard to attract people to the jobs attractive to immigrants if education is expensive and the jobs aren’t very good nor well-paying or secure, and for the most part the US has spent a long time trying to make things cheaper by making jobs less well-paying. The things that would make USians able and willing to fill those spots have been worn away by the same people complaining that immigration is the problem.

  20. march21 says:

    I think globalization has been overdone in the last 30 years. And there is a backlash all over the world finally. Globalization is wonderful if you are a top dog. But underdogs all over the world resent the wealth inequality it has generated. And politicians are reacting to it. Democratic countries have started to elect nationalists into office. Leaders in authoritarian countries, sensing the mood, are turning into nationalists and preparing to shut the door. So Trump is not an exception. Expect similar actions if Democrats are voted into office. Unlike business leaders or academicians, politicians are trained to sense the mood of the populace.

  21. Joe says:

    The underpayment of H-1B workers is well-established fact, not rumor, anecdote or ideology. It has been confirmed by two congressionally-commissioned reports, and a number of academic studies in both statistical and qualitative analyses.

    An employer survey conducted by the GAO found that some employers readily admitted to paying H-1B foreign workers less than comparable Americans, but noted that they were nevertheless paying the legally required wage (i.e., the “prevailing wage”), thereby illustrating that the prevailing wage is indeed below the market wage.

    The GAO found that, “some employers said that they hired H-1B workers in part because these workers would often accept lower salaries than similarly qualified U.S. workers; however, these employers said they never paid H-1B workers less than the required wage.”[1]

    This jibes with a previous employer survey, commissioned by Congress, that found, “…H-1B workers in jobs requiring lower levels of IT skill received lower wages, less senior job titles, smaller signing bonuses, and smaller pay and compensation increases than would be typical for the work they actually did.”[2]

    So two employer surveys, one by the government and the other commissioned by the government, had employers actually admitting to underpaying their H-1B foreign workers. And the GAO shows that the employers admit that the prevailing wage, the legal wage floor for H-1Bs, is a joke. The data in the paper shows the underpayment statistically as well.

    [1] GAO (2003). H-1B Foreign Workers: Better Tracking Needed to Help Determine H-1B Program’s Effects on U.S. Workforce, GAO-03-883, September 2003.

    [2] National Research Council (2001). Building a Workforce for the Information Economy

  22. Steve says:

    The H-1B visa was created as a part of the 1990 Immigration Act, with the pretext being that there was a looming shortage of people getting into science & engineering. Sorry, but the idea of a 30-year labor shortage in a functioning labor market doesn’t pass the laugh test.

  23. James Millar says:

    The UK is also well down the route of self-inflicted injury due to populist idiocy. We flirted with it here in Canada during the Harper administration.

    1. Brexit? Well, it was England that drove that, not the UK overall ( – link opens new window). To be honest, this is a fair result – the English were never comfortable with being in the EU as I suspect you know, and were constantly trying to renegotiate this, that or the other. So it’s hardly surprising that given the opportunity, people voted to leave. Whether or not it turns out to be a good thing for the people is something that can never be known.


      1. Barry says:

        Even BoJo’s own father isn’t buying what the clown’s selling. He has argued that the first referendum was corrupted by Russian influence and wants Britons to re-vote in light of that information.

  24. Srinivas says:

    I have worked in IT on H1B Visa. I was paid the same salary as any US Citizen or Green card holder. Its a false narrative that H1B visa is used to drive salaries down. Even in the COVID times the unemployment in IT is at record low. You cannot have both lower unemployment as well narrative that immigrants are snatching jobs. Look at the kind of jobs that were lost due to this pandemic and kind of jobs which are intact. H1B is used only for a few specific occupations. Every year USA welcomes 1 million legal immigrants, out of them H1B visa holders are only 85,000. You need to start differentiating between immigrants who come just based on some family ties with highly skilled immigrants.

    1. Kerkira says:

      And as everyone knows, the plural of ‘anecdote’ is ‘data’. In fact:

      Wipro, a large outsourcing company, paid its 104 program analysts in San Jose exactly $60,000 each in 2016. Brocade, in contrast, paid their programmer analysts $130,000 in the same city.

      Similarly, Infosys, the largest user of H-1B visas, paid their 158 technology analysts in New York City, one of the most expensive cities in the world, $67,832 on average last year [2016], not enough to rent a closet in that city.

      A close look at’s data shows that, as you move past the Googles and Microsofts of the IT world, H-1B salaries tend to cluster around the $65,000 to $75,000 level. There is a reason for this. If outsourcing companies pay their H-1B workers at least $60,000, the company is exempted from a number of regulations designed to prevent visa abuse.

      From Commentary: The H-1B Visa Problem as IEEE-USA Sees It (a letter from the past, present, and future presidents of IEEE-USA in 2017)

    2. just a comment: H visa holders aren’t immigrants, they are temporary workers although people who have them fully expect transition to green cards will be seamless (see below). Also, that 85K does not include the number who come in through universities. Been there, done that.


  25. A Kapoor says:

    Opponents of immigration love to start every conversation from the vantage point of superiority of homegrown talent. All evidence on the contribution of immigrants and their children suggests that the opposite is true. Foreign skilled workers and their children are extraordinarily more productive and successful as a group than European Americans. I’ll say it softly so as not to hurt any feelings (#whitefragility), but the data is overwhelming and facts are facts.

    Which cohort do you expect will perform better at America’s universities and in the workforce? The 10% of students selected from Kansas, or the 10% selected from the other 6.7 billion people outside America?

    Next time, ask yourself the following question: does this H-1B worker deserve to be here any less than my European migrant grandparent did? How does his / her skill set compare with the other European migrants that came here over the last century years? What makes it okay to shut the door on foreign immigration now, and what made it acceptable then? If you are worried about this person’s language / accent, ask yourself why this is an important consideration now but wasn’t then?

    If you aren’t able to come up with satisfactory answers to these questions, yes you probably are a bigot, and no you probably don’t give a hoot about prevailing wage concerns.

    1. aairfccha says:

      A country is more than a bunch of people, it also is an accumulation of social capital built up over generations. It is entirely legitimate to demand answers to the problems of mass immigration (including but not limited to wage depression) before the doors are thrown open – and with the emergency quota act of 1921 they were closed fairly tight for quite a while.

      If you aren’t able to come up with satisfactory answers to these questions, yes you probably are a bigot, and no you probably don’t give a hoot about prevailing wage concerns.

      1. anon says:

        One could argue that immigrants are coming here for money and a better lifestyle, so these individuals can be called economic migrants. A reasonable question to ask is why they don’t stay in their home countries to try to improve things. I don’t think if you don’t like this competition you are certainly a bigot, because these are concerns from immigrants from europe and canada who take american jobs. Why are the Europeans coming over? Maybe they dont like the huge surge of immigration that they are getting, that will lower wages?

  26. VB says:

    Who hires immigrant workers in the US? US companies run by US citizens. Why? Cheap labor (not entirely true, but let’s go with it). Reducing costs = increasing profits, isn’t that the basis of capitalism? Wanting the government to restrict a company from reducing costs is anti-capitalism! So government intervention is okay only when it suits you? Whether an employee is exceptional or mediocre, that’s the hiring company’s business.

    On a different note, I see a trend here. Every couple of months Derek posts incendiary articles to stir up pot 🙂

  27. White Pride says:

    Who needs to read political hit job posted by a pea-brained organic chemist? Keep your radical left-wing Marxist Sociaist dribble to yourself.

    The United States must adopt an immigration system that serves the national interest. To restore the rule of law and secure our border, President Trump is committed to constructing a border wall and ensuring the swift removal of unlawful entrants. To protect American workers, the President supports ending chain migration, eliminating the Visa Lottery, and moving the country to a merit-based entry system. These reforms will advance the safety and prosperity of all Americans while helping new citizens assimilate and flourish.

    Derek, you should stick to your molecules, chemicals and pharmaceuticals and let our excellent President run the country the way the people want him to. You have a lot of nerve always dissing our President even though you were too stupid to attend Medical School.

    1. Wallace Grommet says:

      Melania will be deported if she tries to divorce Trump owing to her numerous, well-documented violations of her visa

    2. drsnowboard says:

      As a European, this kind of response post and the thinking it reflects is a perfect example of the cult-like support we see (oh I know, only on the MSM that can be dismissed) , the double standards exhibited by an administrative elite that have no shame, no memory and no interest in debate.
      Makes me pine for the days of Agilist, a corporate shill rather than an idealogical one.

    3. anon says:

      The 1st Amendment?

  28. MoMo says:

    Yes America was a back water in the 1800s then we kicked the oppressors out, became a technological superpower that to this day is unparalleled. All this anti American sentiment and pot stirring by lucky Pharma types is getting old and using the visa and immigration issue, which is a problem during a pandemic in any country. But this is America and freedom of speech and to be “pouty” is affirmed by the Constitution so go for it.

    In the future Science and the Timmerman report should put disclaimers showing COIs and donations to political parties from now on, like the COIs in manuscripts. That way readers can skip biased and pouty information the American way. With their money.

    1. Kaleberg says:

      In the early 19th century, the US was known for its fusion of immigrant ideas. For example, in Europe, where most immigrants came from, the guilds taught various crafts to be done in particular ways. A French carpenter wouldn’t borrow German or Italian tools or techniques, but in the US carpenters, native and immigrant, would mix and match finding techniques that would work in the resource rich, labor shy US.

  29. JJ says:

    The H-1B is cheap labor. The question to ask is what would employers have to pay if the H-1B did not exist. Anything below that makes it cheap labor.

    More important, the assertion that we need foreign talent means that you have adopted a view similar to but the inversion of the Master Race concept of the past.

    The Labor Department characterizes H-1B pay levels as:

    1. Entry
    2. Qualified
    3. Experienced
    4. Fully Competent

    Less than 10 percent of H-1B workers enter as level 4. That makes the primary use of the H-1B cheap labor.

  30. Kerkira says:

    If large corporations in the US really believe that they are recruiting the best and the brightest in the world, why don’t they hire them directly and immediately sponsor them for green cards, rather than contract for their labor through outsourcing companies and bring them over on temporary guest worker visas?

    It’s easier, apparently, to shout ‘Racist’ or ‘Xenophobe’ than to seriously consider that question.

  31. AnonPD says:

    The missed point ( because it isnt an approved left wing talking point ) is that the policy of cheap science labor is bad for everyone, immigrants and Americans included. It is typical to fire postdocs on a whim because of ” funding ” and deny them the opportunity to conduct independent research as advertised. Many labs for example do this as a policy, specifically targeting immigrants to be hired and than promptly fired. I knew an indian national at Johns Hopkins that was laid off without reason and then threatened with deportation ( by the university) if she didn’t find another job within days. So, the comments about respecting immigrants are just empty rhetoric.

  32. BobM says:

    I’d like to present a slightly different aspect of the immigration model, while agreeing that immigration is a net good for the USA.
    My experience with immigrants is that they come here to learn, work, live, and sometimes to escape. I have met several immigrants who told me their home countries were dangerous and scary places.
    Now, that’s just my anecdotal experience.

    The reason I like immigration is that it improves my life.

    From a macro economic theory point of view, the additional productivity of an immigrant adds to the value of my dollars.

    From a more micro economic point of view, I get more choices: a wider variety of food comes to mind. I never knew Tom Kha Gai could be so good!? Cuban Coffee, Brazilian Steak, Pakistan I-don’t-know-what-it-was-called-but-I-want-more!

    I also get to interact with people who help me understand just how great the USA is. I almost always ask people why they came here. It ranges all the way from: “I followed my family” to “If I stayed in my home country, I would have been beheaded”.

    Every immigrant I have worked with has enhanced *my* productivity and job performance. That includes people from India, Pakistan, Iran, Russia/USSR, Israel, South Africa, Somalia, China (both kinds), Korea, Mexico, the D.R., Haiti, France, etc, etc, etc…

    And just a note on my experience with government in the USA: No government official has *ever* mistreated me. Even though the first 15 years or so of that was the childhood me being on public assistance due to a disabled parent.

    I will get off my soapbox with a final thought: If my line of immigrants had not been welcome 100 years ago, we’d have less medical technology, less wedding dresses, more expensive banking, and less justice.

  33. Anon says:

    You can see it in this thread alone. The social and political divide is a much bigger threat to the USA than any presence of lack of immigration could be. I can’t see a resemblance of “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”. I do not live in the USA, but I fear how this divide will affect people inside and outside the USA alike.

    1. Aaron F says:

      Yeah, this is more a shouting match than a nuanced policy discussion.

      For what it’s worth, I find pretty much any immigration restriction to be morally dubious, in large part due to the origins of the United States. A nation of immigrants, or a violent colonial enterprise, depending on how charitable you feel. As far as I’m concerned, the only people who have the right to nativism are the actual Native Americans, and they are clearly not the people who drive immigration restrictions. It seems fundamentally absurd to build a nation like that and then close up the gates when you weren’t even the first people to be there. There are other reasons, of course, but that’s the biggest one.

      1. Steve says:

        In my humble opinion, the argument that Americans oppose immigrants and immigration is a straw man argument. The majority of the opposition has been specifically to the H-1B visa legislation. Immigration laws existed long before the H-1B visa did. Einstein did not come to the US on an H-1B visa.

  34. Flem says:

    HB-1 is for specialty occupations. Why is Level I competency even considered for HB-1?
    Seems an easy solution to at least 50% of the problem is to companies to demonstrate that they are unable to fill entry Level I jobs with US residents. In any case if you follow Yuval Noah Harari these jobs and more will all be replaced by AI and robots in our lifetime.

  35. anonymous says:

    Does anyone consider the number of jobs that immigrants can create for Americans?

    Very simple and recent example of how preventing immigrants can affect US employees is possible furloughing of 13000 employees at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services because USCIS derives almost all of its revenue from immigration fees.

    another example:
    “The study, conducted by the National Foundation for American Policy, determined that 44 out of 87 privately held companies valued at more than $1 billion had at least one immigrant founder. It further estimated that each of these immigrant-founded companies created 760 jobs.”

    The problem is very systemic. You cannot just consider one aspect of it.

  36. NMH says:

    If all natives the US felt they were reasonably upwardly mobile over time (getting better pay as they got older, better jobs), doing better than their parents were, and knew that their kids would do well in the future, I don’t think you would have any questions about immigration. Unfortunately, this is not happening to most americans. For most people, the extreme competition feels like a race to the bottom, and they get resentful of those (eg tenured faculty, 6-fig big Pharma’s supported off medicare section D) that don’t have to compete for scraps. I font like Trump, but I sympathize for people that vote for him.

  37. Biotech OF says:

    Over 40 years and probably 1000 people hired I never actually had the opportunity to hire someone on an H1; the places I worked didn’t think it was worth the trouble since there were lots of legal/regulatory costs and the likelihood that we couldn’t keep the employee long term. I’ve worked with probably a dozen folks through the whole immigration/green card/citizenship process, and I have to say the bureaucracy and number of Catch-22 opportunities is hellish. The costs of getting an employee through this process are high, in money, lawyers, and management time. You don’t do it for someone who is not exceptional.

    On the other side of the coin, I have interviewed thousands of those “underemployed” US STEM graduates, and to be blunt, the reason they aren’t employed in their chosen field is that they don’t have the skills, competence, initiative, or imagination to be productive members of a biotech workforce. They’ve been to schools where little is asked of them, “A’s” are dispensed like M&Ms, and have never developed even rudimentary curiosity or work ethic. It is easily the case that there is both a shortage of actually qualified workers and an excess of people with assorted credentials that, without deeper understanding, would seem to make them candidates.

  38. Facts says:

    I agree with the sentiment that America and the biomedical & research community as a whole benefits from having the best and the brightest study and be employed in America. There is no doubt to that whatsoever – the academic system & pharmaceutical industry has hugely benefited from this arrangement.

    The real and unfortunate issue is that biomedical employment has been in contraction in America since about 2006 – particularly synthetic organic chemistry. The job market and funding situation for tenure-track professors has been brutal for the last 20 years – not much has changed there. For industrial employment, the job market has been in a continual state of contraction. The folks who do top-tier synthesis PhDs/PDs with Overman, Boger, Baran, Danishefsky, etc. although the job market isn’t as robust as it used to be for synthetic chemists in the 1990s and early 2000s – they will find a job. The same for top-tier chembio PhDs/PDs with Schreiber, Bertozzi , etc. – they will find a job. But, these are a minority of the PhDs/PDs. The students from lower-tier, average and good, but not elite schools struggle to find decent employment. Academia needs armies of graduate students and post-docs in order to keep the research machine going – regardless of their origin. Add a large contingent of foreign-born associates to a contracting employment opportunity pool, and that’s a recipe for disaster that American-born students are wise to stay away from. The most shrewd students who aren’t in top-tier programs recognize this and go into finance, medicine, engineering – fields with more barriers to entry and less opportunity cost. To be in graduate school for 5-6 years with a 2-5 year PD making less than 100k in the industry is a risky proposition at best. Only those that are so passionate about science that they don’t care about their prospects should go into the field.

    Case in point – I had a friend obtain a MS degree in 2006 in synthetic organic chemistry from the University of Michigan – a strong, but not top-tier chemistry program. After 15 years of employment as a medicinal chemist at three Big Pharma companies he is unable to find suitable employment and is out of synthetic chemistry altogether. He is not even 40 years old. Why devote oneself to a field where job opportunities drop dramatically once one is 40, much less 50 years old? The biomedical academic & industrial employment system is dramatically divorced from supply of employees and demand for employees – and that is where the problems arise.

  39. Electrochemist says:

    OK, two of my best ever tutees this year were offered in one case a free ride at UCLA in one case and the other won a Fulbright scholarship which she was planning to take at Stanford. Because of the politics of the USA , neither of these supremely capable young women engineers are now going to take up these offers. One is going to Cambridge and the other to Oxford and I really must say this really is our gain and your loss. Good luck with your natives.

  40. anon says:

    Ok, so your “tutees” (nice ivory-tower term) are going to the UK on scholarships. My question is this: if they are originally from second or third world nations, where will they end up with a career? The 1st world, or where they came from? In other words, are they going for the money, or to help their own people who live in destitution, who could really use their help?

    I’m sure they will go with the money, and say “screw you” to the cultures that raised them. And hence this is the problem.

    1. anon says:

      Your analysis seems a little too black and white to me.

  41. Kaleberg says:

    The kind of Americans who read Science and its blogs are at the upper end of pay scale. Maybe they aren’t in the top 20%, about $135K, but they are still better paid than most. Odds are, their primary direct concern regarding immigration is with being undercut by H1Bs.

    There has been an economic divergence over the past 40 years. The top 20% has been gaining, though not as much as the top 10% and even less well than the top 1%, but as one moves down the scale, the rule has been income stagnation or decline.

  42. LorryT says:

    My recent experience is that more and more talented individuals from abroad simply don’t want to come to the US. Not necessarily because of the immigration rhetoric and clampdown though that obviously does not help. Rather because of the reduced attractiveness of life here vs. many other countries from vacation, work-life balance to personal safety and cost of education/healthcare etc. That’s obviously a personal choice, but it may be that American’s best anti-immigration tool is its declining attractiveness and quality of life of its citizens.

  43. Anonymous says:

    I’m not sure I can speak on immigration to the US, but I think my experience as an American living abroad might be instructive in considering migration patterns of skilled workers.

    As a background: I am a dual citizen of the US and another country and spent about half of my childhood and schooling in the US. My spouse and I have rights to live and work indefinitely in four of the five ‘five eyes’ nations. I have an undergraduate chemistry degree and have been fortunate to find stimulating and rewarding employment in the pharma industry, in part through building experience working in a fairly oddball niche of the industry. My spouse is a senior level manager in a different industry, and we are in our mid-thirties.

    We have decided to settle where we are outside of the US in a large part due to the value proposition: salaries are fine here, and while cost of living is high it is in line with cities everywhere. Non-salary benefits here are much better than in the US, to the point where it does not make sense for us to return. We have few worries about unemployment, medical expenses, medical leave, or taking vacation time. It makes more sense for us to stay put and use our extra vacation time to visit with family in the US than it would to do the reverse.

    To perhaps preempt some of the style of comments I have seen occasionally here and elsewhere, I see plenty of people on vacation in light trucks towing recreational boats, and we have had cause to access the local medical system. There is prosperity in this country, and we have had immediate access to medical care every bit as professional and advanced as that available in the US.

    This is not to say that any part of the world is without flaws, or the US is a particularly bad place to live or has some unique failing. Rather, it seems to me that the cohorts of young technical professionals and other skilled workers coming up are more likely to be willing and able to travel internationally and have more trans-national connections than in the past. I believe people will tend to want to migrate to where they can get the best value for their work, and to where they can do the work that is most engaging to them – and this may not always be the US.

    To Derek’s original point: I certainly agree that it is in the best interest of the US to capture as much value as possible by attracting as much talent as possible, but I suggest this talent search applies more broadly than to the very highest tier of academic and industry scientists. It seems to me there is a great deal of value realised through skilled collaboration taking a new discovery or technique through development and into implementation.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Derek, I’d like also to lend my strong agreement with the sentiment of your post, particularly as you say in the third paragraph:
      “This is a place, but it’s more than a place: it’s an idea. My neighbors include a family from India and a family from China, but they are Americans to me. Their children went to school with mine. I’m glad that they’re here.”
      Given the distressing news coming out of the US these days it heartens me to read your reflection on what actually makes America great.

      The US passport has quotes printed at the head of each page opening, and I am struck by the line from Eisenhower’s first inaugural address “…whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America.” I truly hope we all can heed this call to hard work and just action in the years ahead.

    2. Anon says:

      Found the Canadian

  44. no borders, no walls says:

    for whatever it’s worth. i am a us born citizen who went to a state school -> starts ups -> big pharma as a medchemist/drug discovery scientist. last year, i did not apply to any graduate schools in the us (for a variety of reasons) and have instead been accepted to a top euro phd program with more than double the expected pay & benefits (from my US perspective).

    not only will people chose other countries for science, “our” scientists will also leave. i dont think im the best and brightest or anything, but I had a good shot at an R1 school and chose to leave instead. now i have healthcare, 6 weeks vacation, disposable income, etc.

    if we keep our harsh immigration policies and brutal graduate school lifestyles, we will lose out on talented scientists.

  45. Chem_will_never_return says:

    Dont waste your time studying for a chemistry job, they just hire H1B and others.
    Go watch who comes out the door at quitting time, you will see.
    Same goes for engineering jobs.
    It’s all about cheap compliant labor

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