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H1-B Visa Foreign IT Workers and the Immigration Bill

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Message Michael Dean
The post-WWII G.I. Bill together with relatively low-tuition state supported universities made it possible for almost any American to obtain a college degree. These government funded programs made America the world technology leader in the post-WWII era, but now, for the first time in decades, a truly gigantic pool of well-educated, technically adept and eager-to-please foreign labor is rapidly pushing the U.S. from its first place position.

In 2001, India graduated almost a million more students from college than the United States. China graduates twice as many students with bachelor's degrees as the United States, and they have six times as many graduates majoring in engineering. The U.S. verses the world higher education score has worsened every year since 2001.

This pool of college educated foreign talent, which includes hundreds of millions of people in China and India alone, earn a fraction of what American professionals and scientists earn. This is because the standard of living in China and India combined with favorable currency exchange rates make what would seem like a pauper's salary in the U.S. a highly attractive "living wage" in those countries.

It is no accident that China and India graduate so many more engineers than the U.S. The governments of China and India plan closely with industry and universities to encourage their citizens to obtain four year and advanced college degrees in math and the sciences. These governments then make every possible effort to ensure their college graduates have well paying jobs immediately upon graduation. And, graduates are not saddled with a lifetime of college loan debt as are most U.S. graduates. These governments persuade their citizens to obtain college degrees in math and science by providing access to college and a virtually guaranteed job upon graduation. That is what the U.S. was like when I obtained my degrees in Computer Science and Business Administration from a state funded university back in the 1970's.

In contrast, today, the U.S government appears to be working closely with industry and universities to discourage their citizens from obtaining four year and advanced college degrees in math and the sciences. State and Federal governments are slashing support for both universities and students. U.S. students must increasingly borrow large sums of money to finance their college educations.

According to the Higher Education Project, the volume of college loans has increased 60 percent since 1998. The average college student's debt at graduation was about $17,500 before the GOP controlled congress cut an additional $12 billion from student aid programs last winter. That $12 billion reduction in student aid translates to as much as $5,800 added on to the already substantial $17,500 average student loan amount.

While government and industry are taking away college access with one hand, they are just as busy taking away technolgy jobs with the other hand by giving giving those jobs to foreign workers.

As the nation worried about the "free trade" export of manufacturing and heavy industry jobs over the last two decades, politicians and economists promised "high tech" jobs, particularly jobs in the computer sciences, would "replace" lost manufacturing jobs in the future. This was of course a fallacy because by the late-1980's U.S. manufacturing and heavy industry companies heavily relied on computers and computer software to support their business operations. Manufacturing and heavy industry companies alone employed a small army of computer programmers and related technicians during that time. As blue-collar manufacturing and heavy industry jobs disappeared offshore the white-collar computer jobs of those companies were guaranteed to follow soon after. Now, the rest of the U.S. computer industry is following after those manufacturing-related white-collar computer jobs to offshore locations.

Promises made by government and business leaders alike that high-tech jobs would replace manufacturing jobs lost offshore convinced increasing numbers of college students to major in computer science through the 1990's. The number of students majoring in computer science peaked in 2002 just as U.S. business began a wholesale transfer of technology jobs to low-cost foreign technology workers during the brief recession precipitated by deflation of the dot com bubble and the events of September 11, 2001.

From the very beginning of the Bush Administration U.S. companies have lobbied Congress and President Bush extensively to obtain greater freedom in hiring cheaper foreign technology workers via H-1B and L1 visa programs. Concurrently, U.S. companies have also been busy relocating many technology jobs offshore to India and China where salaries are a fraction of U.S.-base technology salaries and where there is no health insurance cost - because the governments of those countries provide social health care for their citizens.

H-1B and L1 visas and the offshoring of American technology jobs often go hand-in-hand, as many companies import H-1B and L1 workers, force US citizens to train them, then offshore the work and finally lay off their U.S. staff. Many H-1B and L1 foreign workers even displace middle and upper level managers who make on-going hiring decisions. Once in the decision-making positions, H-1B foreign workers are free to claim they can't find qualified American technology workers and must, therefore, hire yet more H-1B foreign workers and send yet more work to their compatriots offshore.

Why should American parents encourage their children to take extra math and science in high school, thus risk lowing a grade point average with the more challenging coarse work, and then risk taking massive loans to send their kids to college for a technical degree when it looks like there is no reasonable return on that investment? Students and their parents must believe American business will have well paying technology jobs waiting for them upon graduation or they will not make the technology education investment.

According to a 2005 report by the College Board, which administers advanced placement tests; the number of students taking advanced placement computer science exams has dropped significantly since peaking in 2002. A total of 23,459 students took an advanced placement computer science test in 2002, compared with 21,745 in 2003 and 20,414 in 2004. The United States now lags behind 24 other countries in the percentage of college graduates awarded science and engineering degrees. A disgrace!

American students and their parents have good reason to shy away from college computer science or other science and engineering degree programs. In March 2003, the American Engineering Association reported that the U.S. high-tech sector lost 560,000 jobs--a 10 percent decline--between January 2001 and December 2002. During the same period, U.S. businesses sponsored more than this number of low wage high-tech foreign workers, on H-1B and other temporary visas, into the U.S. Today, national unemployment among U.S.-born computer programmers has soared to a level higher than the general unemployment average and its getting worse, not better!

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the U.S. Information Technology workforce consists of 3.56 million people as of the end of Q1 2006. That's the largest IT workforce number since 2001, when the number was 3.574 million, but it's still a dismal number. Why? BLS counts both the employed and the unemployed as part of the "IT workforce" headline number. After adjusting the headline number to account for the IT unemployment rate there are only 3.471 million IT workers actually employed in the U.S. today, less than employed in 2001

It gets worse; America's population has grown by over 15 million people since 2001 so the number of employed IT professionals has declined while the population has grown by over 15 million. In 2001, 1.25 percent of all Americans were employed in IT. In 2006, 1.19 percent of all Americans are employed in IT.

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Bachelors of Science Degree in Computer Science and Business Administration with 25 years of experience working in the Independent Software Vendor Industry.
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