The guest worker on an H1-B visa versus the US national with a STEM degree: Who wins? Who loses?

For the last several years there has been a massive amount of hand-wringing about how America is falling behind in the race to acquire the skills that the “haves” of the future will hold.  Most notably STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).  If we want to be a country of “have nots”, so the theory goes, we can continue on our present course of underachieving in these areas.  But if we want to regain our technological edge, and most importantly, bring down that stubbornly high unemployment rate, we have to put more American students on the STEM track.

The proponents of this theory point to a  “skills gap”  as the primary reason for our persistently and stubbornly high unemployment rate.  Industry CEO’s add fuel to the fire by saying they can’t find “qualified Americans” to fill highly technical positions in biotech, engineering, programming and IT.  They keep begging Congress to raise the limits on our already generous guest-worker visa policy so they can get “qualified” people in these critical positions.

But is it true?  Is there really a “skills gap” or “skills mismatch”?  or as I have suggested before,  is this merely a canard?

A study recently released  by the Economic Policy Institute  attempts to shed some light on this matter.   (The link will take you to a summary and a PDF download).   Here is a brief synopsis:

  1. The flow of US nationals into STEM fields has been strong for over a decade.
  2. For every two US students that graduate with a STEM degree, only one is hired into a STEM job.
  3. In computer and information science as well as engineering, US colleges and universities graduate 50% more students in these fields than are actually hired into those fields yearly.
  4. The graduates who did not enter these fields for which they were trained sited the inability to find work (32%) and the fact that they could find better opportunities elsewhere (53%).
  5. Over the past decade, IT employment has increased, but only recently recovered to the 2000-2001 level very recently.
  6. Wages have been flat.  Real wages are stuck at the late 1990s level.
  7. As to the influence of guest workers on H1-B or other visas.
  8. The number of guest workers continues to increase rapidly after a pause immediately following  the 2008 crash.
  9. The influx of guest workers account for 33-50%  of all new IT job recipients.
  10. The above is in light of the fact that there is a robust supply of domestic workers ready willing and able to work in IT including a 50% increase in the number of computer science graduates since 1998.

Some stats from the US Department of Labor:

  1. The demand for guest workers is so great that 65,000 skilled workers and 20,000 at the master’s level or above were snatched up by the corporate US in 5 days.
  2. At the same time 496,000 Americans dropped out of the workforce in March 2013.
  3. In March of this year only 88,000 total jobs were added in the US economy.
  4. Yet somehow we mysteriously managed to find work for 85,000 guest workers in 5 days???


The authors conclude that ….

Immigration policies that facilitate large flows of guest workers will supply labor at wages that are too low to induce significant increases in the supply of the domestic workforce.


Or….put another way….if you got yourself into debt up to your eyeballs to get that STEM degree, consider yourself the chump of the century.  You see, no one wins in a race to the bottom.  Neither the guest worker who is merely an indentured servant nor the US national fighting for position on the hiring ladder.  Even the corporate elites will eventually lose.  Once they have impoverished everyone that they can exploit, they will start to eat their own.

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2 Responses to The guest worker on an H1-B visa versus the US national with a STEM degree: Who wins? Who loses?

  1. jgo says:

    US Dept. of Education, Digest of Education Statistics:
    52,555 Computer & Info Science degrees earned by US citizens in AY2010-2011
    327,495 STEM degrees earned by US citizens

    1.4M degrees in Computer & Info Science earned by US citizens since 1970.
    9.4M STEM degrees earned by US citizens since 1970

    with NSF factors, to account for STEM minors:
    over 2.4M degrees with at least significant course-work in C&IS earned by US citizens since 1970;
    over 12.3M degrees with at significant STEM course-work earned by US citizens since 1970.

    Several million more US citizens have a combination of some college, on-the-job learning, and/or self-directed study in a STEM field.

    I just ran across a paper from Georgetown U Center on Education and the Work-Force, that alleged the total STEM job supply in 2018 is projected to be only just under 7.6M, a jobs dearth of some 6-9M.

    • Ruthmarie says:

      Great data. Sorry it took me so long to reply. Somehow I missed this in my inbox.

      This appears to be a very clever spin on the fact that compared to other nations, American students rank far behind their counterparts in general ability with respect to STEM areas.

      However, by spinning off of that, those that wish to create a glut of high-tech workers are being very disingenuous because we are comparing apples and oranges. Although we have been singularly unable to properly educate the general public about science and technology, our institutions of higher learning are surpassed by none. There is a reason why scientists and engineers come from all over the world to study here. Currently, we have the best system on the planet. for educating science and engineering professionals.

      I will hasten to add that although we still have that edge and can call it our own, we are squandering it rapidly by commoditizing these fields into minimum wage jobs. No one is going to spend years acquiring a high degree in engineering, math or science only to earn what a burger flipper’s take home pay.

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