BeLaboring the STEM Immigration Issue

Two articles in present opposing views on the provisions to expand the number of visas and green cards for foreign science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workers in the immigration reform bill soon to be debated in the Senate. The editorial board believes that American universities are not producing enough “seriously smart engineers and code writers,” adding, “It’s time to give America’s technological leaders the tools they need to compete in a global marketplace.”

Not so, counters Richard Trumka, president of the 12-million-member AFL-CIO, in a companion article. The drive to admit more STEM workers is not about a skills shortage but “about powerful companies pursuing lower wages. … They want a massive expansion of H-1B visa holders because they can pay them less,” he writes. Trumka adds, “in the fields of computer and information science and engineering, U.S. colleges graduate 50% more students than there are new hires,” and, “Basic supply and demand suggests that if there were too few qualified tech workers, their average salaries would be going up. But tech wages haven’t risen since Bill Clinton was president.”

It’s time to give America’s technological leaders the tools they need to compete in a global marketplace.” —USA Today

Opinions like the one expressed by the editorial board carried the day at Senate Judiciary Committee hearings that approved the bill and sent it on to the full Senate. Interestingly, though, Trumka has some surprising allies on that committee. Two conservative senators not known as strong supporters of organized labor, Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), have issued a statement of their “Minority Views” on the bill.  In the statement they quote the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, an AFL-CIO union with more than 80,000 members, stating, “Hundreds of thousands of foreign STEM workers will enter the United States each year with the sole purpose of working in jobs that Americans would normally do.” In addition, Grassley and Sessions add, the 700,000-member Communications Workers of America, also an AFL-CIO union, has stated that the bill will “create preferential treatment for foreign born workers. … We can spend billions to educate a STEM workforce but without employers willing to hire these U.S. STEM workers, our work is for naught.”

The bill as currently written needs major revision so that it can “ensure that American workers and students are given every chance to fill high-skilled jobs in this country,” Grassley and Sessions write.

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