H1-B Visas

VisaDean Baker wrote a very good (short) article this morning about the call for more highly educated workers. They are called STEM workers, which stands for workers who have skills in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. What Republicans are pushing for are more H1-B visas. And this is because companies claim they just can’t find workers with the right skills here in America. This is bullshit, to say the least. As with all such claims, the issue is that these companies don’t want to pay the prices that Americans with these skills require.

Baker notes the interesting fact that those who have opened the floodgates on foreign manufacturing work and who would open the floodgates on foreign STEM workers, somehow are never for even a trickle of foreign medical professionals.

Pay for doctors in the United States averages more than $250,000 a year, roughly twice the pay of physicians in Europe. If immigration could bring the pay of U.S. doctors down by an average of $100,000 it would save the country close to $100 billion annually on its health care bill and lead to hundreds of thousands of new jobs in other areas.

I figure there are two issues. First, there is just the fact that politicians and CEOs have a lot of friends who are doctors and they’re great guys; in fact, they’re probably not paid enough! Second, the insurance industry makes it so no one has a compelling interest to keep doctor salaries down. Regardless, no one seems to care that we pay twice the going rate for doctors.

Having worked with a lot of programmers who were here on H1-B visas, I can tell you a few things. First, it isn’t immigration. These guys are brought over here wedded to a particular company. The only “good” it does is for that one company. Second, the workers get very little money. At least half of what the company pays goes to the companies that provide the workers. Third, the workers aren’t that good. When they are getting ready for a new job, they do a lot of cramming to look good at the interview. But hey: they’ll have the exact skills the HR department requires!

And this gets to the very heart of hiring in the high tech world. Those who do the hiring don’t know much about the work. They are too focused on specific skills rather than hiring, say, proven programmers who can code in whatever new language the company is currently hot for. The truth is that regardless of field—computer science or rocket science—what companies need are smart and capable workers. And they must know this. But it is easier to hunt around for cheap employees who have some rigid set of skills. In the end, the whole H1-B visa process is just another example of companies gaming the political system rather than honestly competing in something resembling a free market.

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