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Shortage of STEM Workers
August 19, 2011 8:38 AM   Subscribe

Is There a Shortage of Skilled Foreign Workers? What is never mentioned is that “the best and the brightest” are already here. This argument is an old one.

Previously on MetaFilter:
The Real Science Gap... Jobs
Nature Special Issue on the Future of the PhD
posted by BuffaloChickenWing (43 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
For what it's worth the Center for Immigration studies is run by noted anti-immigration (legal and illegal) nutjob Mark Krikorian.
posted by ghharr at 8:47 AM on August 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


The large majority of foreign PhD recipients already remain in the United States under current law.


Maybe this is true, but as a foreign student studying for a PhD in the USA, it's not trivial if I want to stay. In fact, for me I need to be employed by someone who is prepared to cough up a few thousand dollars.

Has this author ever attempted to navigate the intricacies of the US visa system? Let me assure you that it is slow, expensive and humiliating and the employees seem to take pleasure in your suffering, as well as having somewhat stupid bureaucratic requirements. And I recognize that I'm in a very privileged position where the university has an office specifically to deal with all of the visa requirements.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 8:48 AM on August 19, 2011 [16 favorites]


As noted in the previous post, there is no shortage of scientists in the U.S., but rather a lack of "good" job opportunities. Science and engineering are fun, but when the smart kids realize they can make a ton more money as bankers, they might decide to pursue science merely as an avocation if at all.
posted by exogenous at 8:50 AM on August 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


STOP CALLING ME SHORT!

BTW: I had to fork out £800 and take a very silly test to apply for permanent residency in UK after living here for 4 years. It has since gotten both more expensive and more complicated thanks to the regulation hating conservatives. Unless you work for a large financial corporation and then you are automatically in.
posted by srboisvert at 8:59 AM on August 19, 2011


The elusive brain drain in oil and gas
posted by Horselover Phattie at 9:20 AM on August 19, 2011


Has this author ever attempted to navigate the intricacies of the US visa system? Let me assure you that it is slow, expensive and humiliating and the employees seem to take pleasure in your suffering, as well as having somewhat stupid bureaucratic requirements. And I recognize that I'm in a very privileged position where the university has an office specifically to deal with all of the visa requirements.

I came over on a B1/B2 and I've just been through the PR process via the I-130. 3 months after I arrived and we decided I was going to stay and we hired an immigration lawyer.

It was a relatively quick (two and a half months from I-130/I-485 to PR card) and painless process (invisible backpack and all) but even the handy dandy case status that they now provide you is still extremely vague and there is never any indication as to how long things will take. You just get home and there's a letter in your mailbox summoning you to a USCIS processing centre.

I think I got a bit lucky because of the GFC. When we went to the building to do our married couple interview there was only one other couple waiting with us in a room that had room for 50 or so couples to be waiting.

I still feel a bit of liberal guilt showing up with my appointment letters and skipping past lines of people waiting to be security screened into the building just to lodge their applications to get their family into the US.

BTW: I had to fork out £800 and take a very silly test to apply for permanent residency in UK after living here for 4 years.

£800? That's a bargain. $420 for the I-130, $1070 for the I-485, $585 for the I-191, $370 for the I-765.

Of course we don't have to file for the I-191 or I-765 but they're shall issue within 30 days after 90 days of waiting and the I-130 can take anywhere between 2 months and infinity.

The worst part is if you file an I-191 and a I-765 and your PR comes through at light speed (like mine did) you don't get refunded $955 you paid to get advance parole or employment authorization (since you can't get an SSN without employment authorization and functioning in US society without a social is incredibly annoying).
posted by Talez at 9:24 AM on August 19, 2011


Also I do believe that 9th grade civics should involve a mock immigration with a field visit from a DHS rep. Split the class into a groups. Class of 25 kids you have 1 kid with a PhD, 2 with a masters, 3 with a BA, 6 skilled and 13 unskilled immigrants.

They'll certainly be surprised when only 4 maybe 5 of them get into the country.
posted by Talez at 9:27 AM on August 19, 2011 [10 favorites]


Unless you work for a large financial corporation and then you are automatically in.

FWIW, over the last few years, it's become significantly harder for City firms (whether banks, law firms, accountancy firms, etc) to recruit foreign workers. They're all very unhappy with the current system.

£800? That's a bargain.

That's for permanent residency. Srboisvert probably had to pay at least that much for his initial visa, and maybe a similar amount to renew it, depending what sort of visa it is. I've certainly spent a couple of grand already, and I don't even have residency to show for it.
posted by Infinite Jest at 9:31 AM on August 19, 2011


Mine was for PR as well. Nothing more, nothing less.
posted by Talez at 9:33 AM on August 19, 2011


Let us also note that this author wrote: 'Denying License Plates to Illegals, Too'. I'm usually very sceptical of journalists who refer to undocumented immigrants as 'Illegals'. He does seem a bit to worried about students entering the country, for the good of his own health.

For example, here is a wordle diagram of all his article titles.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 9:33 AM on August 19, 2011


I am apparently not the best and brightest because I honestly can't find the guy's thesis in that essay. Is he for or against more immigration?

Also, all green cards applications are on hold indefinitely - or to be more specific, all labour certifications are on hold because the Dept of Labor is no longer doing Prevailing Wage Determinations.

Thanks for nothing there, guys.
posted by GuyZero at 9:34 AM on August 19, 2011


Wow, what out of context rubbish. Grind that axe, CIS.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:45 AM on August 19, 2011


My only (obviously anecdotal) experience was with H1-B coworkers back in the mid/late 90s. It was said from the hiring manager's mouth to my ears that they "cost us less." They certainly had less salary leverage in our organization than citizens or holders of less paperwork-intensive residency. You could make an argument that this was somewhat reasonable given the additional cost & hassle, but I always felt bad for them based on what I knew.

Which isn't to say there weren't other trade-offs. The quality of worker was quite variable. Possibly that was no different than with citizen hires but there wasn't this looming financial repercussion if we cut a citizen loose. Bad hires are expensive to an organization no matter what but it doesn't usually present that cost via writing a check.

I'm never sure what to make of these visa programs. If the supposed underlying reason is true - they're necessary because citizen workers do not exist - then why should we have programs that are supposedly temporary ones but which never decrease in numerical quantity? Shouldn't there be a financial pressure on organizations, either via rising salaries or lost economic opportunities, so that more citizen workers are trained?

Or should we just have programs that make these workers permanent citizens by opening up application slots that terminate in citizenship rather than just being avenues for it? After all, if we want to, in theory, fill every one of those jobs with a citizen then it seems like it would be most sensible to have the program necessarily end with that worker being a citizen?
posted by phearlez at 9:46 AM on August 19, 2011


American industries will always claim there is a shortage of skilled workers. Immigrants work harder and more cheaply, because they're beholden to their sponsoring companies; it's not quite indentured servitude, but it bears a resemblance.

It's become a cliche in the IT world to layoff a bunch of workers, then six or twelve months later claim that you can't find any US citizens to fill your open positions, so you simply MUST bring some H1B's on board.
posted by Nahum Tate at 10:05 AM on August 19, 2011 [10 favorites]


The stupidity of this article starts with the first sentence:

from article: “The forces of big industry and big immigration beseech us to change our immigration laws to permit the admission of more skilled immigrants; we must seek the help of the world’s ‘best and brightest,’ they say.”

Here are the things wrong with this sentence:

(1) Big industry is pro-immigration? Big industry is demanding that we change immigration laws in favor of more immigration of skilled laborers? This sounds like bullshit. I've never heard of this, and I'd like to see a citation to support it.

(2) "Big immigration?" What on earth is "big immigration?" Is there some heretofore unknown massive industry based on legal immigration which puts millions of lobbying dollars to bear in order to increase immigration? Again, this is bullshit.

This sounds distinctly like an attempt to paint anyone who disagrees with the author's stance as an agent of evil by associating them with these imaginary bugaboos, "big industry" and "big immigration." But people who are pro-immigration don't have insidious corporate forces backing them, as much as it might help people who are anti-immigration to pretend they do.
posted by koeselitz at 10:22 AM on August 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


As noted in the previous post, there is no shortage of scientists in the U.S., but rather a lack of "good" job opportunities. Science and engineering are fun, but when the smart kids realize they can make a ton more money as bankers, they might decide to pursue science merely as an avocation if at all.

True dat.

My boyfriend is first-generation. His parents, who are both electrical engineers, came to America in the late 70s for supplementary-to-their-home-country grad school. They both have research jobs in companies that have been struggling hard for the last several years. Funding is being cut left and right and they've had to take forced vacation. They're doing fine, but obviously the situation is not ideal.

My boyfriend, continuing in his birthright, attended a top-tier school and graduated top of his class in electrical engineering. He could be solving the world energy crisis, creating new technologies that will help thwart global warming, or doing any number of things that would help society at large and help to make America a center of industry and ingenuity again. He definitely has the ability.

But he's working in finance. He knows first hand from his parents how little respect scientific research gets in this country, and that it's getting less every day, and he's decided that he's going to get while the getting is good. Some day, when the financial system finally collapses completely, he'll go to grad school and start contributing meaningfully to society. But until then, why take the risk without any reward?
posted by phunniemee at 10:22 AM on August 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


Yes, they may be PhDs in information technology, and valedictorians and salutatorians, but can they figure out how to cope with our easy-to-manipulate immigration system? Of course not! They must be given additional laws and incentives and new kinds of visas must be created for them, or else, the implication is, they will work for peanuts in China or India, and their brilliance will never shine in the United States. I find that unlikely.


"easy to manipulate"

what


It's not even easy to cope with the immigration system in a straightforward manner. From what I've gleaned from various friends who have tried to navigate the labyritnth over the years, it's glass-chewingly difficult. YMMV of course; depending on your country of origin and the circumstances that bring you here, there are varying degrees of hellishness, but it's still not even remotely easy. If anyone' is "manipulating" the system, they're probably doing so accidentally. Either that or they are dazzlingly ingenious wizards of bureaucracy who totally deserve to take your jerbs.

The author is a two and a half ton douchetruck. Please replace him with an immigrant toute suite.
posted by louche mustachio at 11:17 AM on August 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Hmm, maybe some lawyers who can't find work could get retrained?
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:41 AM on August 19, 2011


Bring in people you want to fill jobs as they are "needed," and then tell the govt you need more foreign workers, who will work at substantially less money. And then tell Am workers they are not needed or not sufficiently trained or that they are to be laid off.
In sum: dump Am and hire less expensive foreigners...I have seen this first-hand at a very big pharm company.
posted by Postroad at 11:43 AM on August 19, 2011


This is a really piss-poor polemic, a screed masquerading as an essay. This is what happens when you learn English while listening to right-wing AM radio.
posted by Steakfrites at 11:52 AM on August 19, 2011


(1) Big industry is pro-immigration? Big industry is demanding that we change immigration laws in favor of more immigration of skilled laborers? This sounds like bullshit. I've never heard of this, and I'd like to see a citation to support it.

Here it is from the National Association of Manufacturers and here from the Chamber of Commerce.
posted by Jahaza at 11:58 AM on August 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


me: “Big industry is pro-immigration? Big industry is demanding that we change immigration laws in favor of more immigration of skilled laborers? This sounds like bullshit. I've never heard of this, and I'd like to see a citation to support it.”

Jahaza: “Here it is from the National Association of Manufacturers and here from the Chamber of Commerce.”

Neither of those actually say that, though. Both are mostly concerned with reforming laws which penalize employers, either by punishing the unknowing hiring of illegal immigrants or by forcing employers to spend money determining status. Both ask for government to allow employers to bring people into the country "in response to labor market needs."

In short, neither advocates increased immigration at all. Both advocate ceding control of immigration to employers. These are two very different things.

To read these statements incorrectly as the author of this essay does is to feed into anti-immigration alarmism.
posted by koeselitz at 12:22 PM on August 19, 2011


Yes, the National Association of Manufacturers advocates increased immigration (pdf): "Immediate efforts must be made to expand and modernize the current employment-based visa programs..." (my emphasis). That's linked from the page I linked to.
posted by Jahaza at 12:29 PM on August 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Chamber of Commerce one says, on the page I linked to that they (my emphasis):
Advocate for continuing and expanding temporary worker programs for highly skilled workers and securing additional workers to be responsive to regional and local labor market needs or shortages, including the expansion of existing worker visa programs, such as the H-1B, H-2B, and H-2A visa programs.
posted by Jahaza at 12:31 PM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Okay. So - what is the extent of this industry support of increased worker visas? Is it as massive as the author implies? And is this what he means by "big immigration?"
posted by koeselitz at 12:46 PM on August 19, 2011


How about training Americans to do the jobs that we supposedly bring these people over for? This whole "education stops when you're done with HS/college/etc" idea needs to go out the window. You are always learning or you are left behind.

Start opening up high schools from 5-8PM each day and have classes on Word/Excel/Google Docs, how to use the internet, email, etc. Make them close, convient, and as close to free as possible. Run them for 3-4 weeks at a time. From there see how the crowds do, and start expanding into other STEM areas if necessary.
posted by SirOmega at 1:27 PM on August 19, 2011


Word/Excel isn't a STEM area. STEM means a university degree in a physical science, engineering, or mathematics, preferably with programming experience, or a degree in computer science if you're actually clever. Btw, there are many mixed business plus information technology degrees that don't count as STEM.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:43 PM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Okay. So - what is the extent of this industry support of increased worker visas? Is it as massive as the author implies? And is this what he means by "big immigration?"

I think "big immigration" is, in fact, a figment of the author's fevered imagination, as you surmised.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:56 PM on August 19, 2011


If there's something you don't like you simply prefix it with "big" and it becomes bad. Like a wolf if you're a pig or something. "Big Government". "Big Labor". And the worst of all, "Big Boi".
posted by GuyZero at 2:00 PM on August 19, 2011


"Big Love"
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:14 PM on August 19, 2011


"Big Mac"
hamburger
posted by K.P. at 2:58 PM on August 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


"BigFoot"
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 3:41 PM on August 19, 2011


Both are mostly concerned with reforming laws which penalize employers, either by punishing the unknowing hiring of illegal immigrants or by forcing employers to spend money determining status.

And of course that's exactly where we would attack employment of undocumented workers if we were really serious about solving the so-called problem of cheap labor to keep produce and meat costs down. But hey, at least we're consistent with our approach to the drug skirmish - pretend demand doesn't matter and keep attacking supply. Wouldn't want to actually change things and have to stop buying tanks & fencing.
posted by phearlez at 3:52 PM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


(1) Big industry is pro-immigration? Big industry is demanding that we change immigration laws in favor of more immigration of skilled laborers? This sounds like bullshit. I've never heard of this, and I'd like to see a citation to support it.

Are you kidding? Have you even heard of H1B visas? I mean, just reading the articles in the post, should've turned that up.

In October of 2008, a report issued by the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services found that the H-1B program has more than a 20 percent violation rate. The fraud identified in the report included jobs not located where employers claimed, H-1B visa holders not being paid the prevailing wage, forged documents, fraudulent degrees and "shell businesses." Nevertheless, the tech industry, led by Microsoft, sought an increase in the H-1B cap.

(2) "Big immigration?" What on earth is "big immigration?" Is there some heretofore unknown massive industry based on legal immigration which puts millions of lobbying dollars to bear in order to increase immigration? Again, this is bullshit.

Not millions of dollars, millions of votes.

Immigrant rights activists protested in several cities across the country this week against Obama's policies on deportation, warning they could cost him votes from the Hispanic community when he runs for reelection in 2012.

posted by codswallop at 4:10 PM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


In October of 2008, a report issued by the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services found that the H-1B program has more than a 20 percent violation rate. The fraud identified in the report included jobs not located where employers claimed, H-1B visa holders not being paid the prevailing wage, forged documents, fraudulent degrees and "shell businesses." Nevertheless, the tech industry, led by Microsoft, sought an increase in the H-1B cap.

This is a link to an article referring to this report, not the actual report. Have you found it? I ask out of curiosity as I just searched and could not find it. I'm also curious to know what the breakdown of H-1B visas is by degree level.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 4:29 PM on August 19, 2011


I think the report must be this one: http://grassley.senate.gov/news/upload/100820082.pdf though it is from September 2008.
posted by interplanetjanet at 4:54 PM on August 19, 2011


From the article: Yes, they may be PhDs in information technology, and valedictorians and salutatorians, but can they figure out how to cope with our easy-to-manipulate immigration system?

A PhD student I know -- at an institution that is in the top 10 in the USA, incidentally -- just got stranded in his home country for three months because of visa issues. It's a real head-scratcher given that the immigration system is so easy to manipulate.

Anyway, from my perspective, it's probably true that we don't need more STEM graduates. Companies just don't want to shell out full price for them (see also: the increasing conversion of normal positions into contract work; the continued "brain drain" into sectors like finance, even today, as phunniemee alluded to). But this means rights for immigrants should be expanded, not limited, in order to curb the kinds of abuses detailed above.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:49 PM on August 19, 2011


Well, not all STEM jobs are the same. Programming is probably a little different from the more traditional engineering fields, but there's still a talent war, salaries are up, etc. This is for the top-end, which has nothing to do with how many degrees are granted where, but ability.

If companies just wanted to import these programmers for cheaper labor, you wouldn't see the kind of offers being made these days. Of course, the situation is vastly different at the more commodity-level of programming, where there is significant offshoring for cost purposes.
posted by wildcrdj at 6:09 PM on August 19, 2011


I just read the report (thanks interplanetjanet). Maybe they have some magic tricks that the use but their sample was 246 out of 96,827 applications (0.25%).

They found a 21% rate of fraud summarized as follows:

1. Firms with 25 or fewer employees have higher rates of fraud or technical violation(s) than larger-sized companies.
2. Firms with an annual gross income of less than $10 million have higher rates of fraud or technical violation(s) than firms with an annual gross income greater than $10 million.
3. Firms in existence less than 10 years (i.e., 1995 and after) have higher incidences of fraud or technical violation(s) than those in existence for more than 10 years (i.e., before 1995).
4. The results indicate that H-1B petitions filed for accounting, human resources, business analysts, sales and advertising occupations are more likely to contain fraud or technical violation(s) than other occupational categories.
5. Beneficiaries with only bachelor’s degrees had higher fraud or technical violation(s) rates than did those with graduate degrees.


It is interesting that the businesses are all at fault, rather than the individual behavior ( I know a business files for the visa, but still....)
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 6:24 PM on August 19, 2011


I take back a little of my criticism about their sample size; it's small but not too bad, if they managed to randomly sample I suppose. I was playing with the numbers and they need 383 samples for a 95% confidence level, with a 5% confidence interval. They claim this is what they achieve on page 2, but I don't see how.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 6:28 PM on August 19, 2011


Wow, there's more "immigrants are taking jobs from americans" vitriol than I ever expected from a metafilter thread. Then again, labor protectionism is becoming more and more fashionable in progressive circles, so not exactly surprising.
posted by falameufilho at 10:48 PM on August 19, 2011


(sorry, "abuses above" was supposed to link here, not to the FPP itself)
posted by en forme de poire at 7:00 PM on August 20, 2011


Wow, there's more "immigrants are taking jobs from americans" vitriol than I ever expected from a metafilter thread. Then again, labor protectionism is becoming more and more fashionable in progressive circles, so not exactly surprising.

I think there's a distinction to be made between "immigrants taking American jobs" and "there is a system in place being gamed to avoid paying competitive wages." I never begrudged a single one of my H1B coworkers their place in the 90s - there was no shortage of work to go around and they were no more likely to be crappy programmers than my citizen coworkers were.

However I do not approve of my country running a program that depresses wages AND doesn't improve the nation's long-term issues. If we're really short of workers to take these jobs then fine, bring them in on a citizenship path so that, at the end, we have another citizen worker. Creating a revolving door for temporary foreign labor doesn't solve our problems even if they're not being screwed out of the full wage they'd make if they were citizens. Both results together is bad for everyone except the businesses cheating the system. And it's probably bad for them too, long term.
posted by phearlez at 12:49 PM on August 22, 2011


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