How Do You Determine What Companies Need?

Matthew Slaughter supports expanding the number of tech workers imported into the United States:

In many recent years, demand for H-1B visas has far exceeded supply. In 2013, the government received roughly 124,000 applications in just four days—and then stopped accepting petitions on April 5. The government has closed the visa window suddenly before, as recently as 2008. All current forecasts suggest strong visa demand again this year thanks to dynamism in high-innovation sectors and continued economic recovery.

[…]

Talented immigrant STEM workers do not crowd out American-born STEM talent. Companies that cannot hire talented immigrants in America often don’t hire anyone at all. Or these companies may hire—but overseas. In 2007, Microsoft opened a research center in Vancouver, in part to “allow the company to continue to recruit and retain highly skilled people affected by the immigration issues in the U.S.,” according to the company’s announcement. In May, the startup Blueseed announced it would skirt U.S. immigration restrictions by building a barge in international waters 12 nautical miles off the coast of San Francisco. There the company could accommodate international entrepreneurs.

I completely support American companies getting the employees they need. However, I think that Mr. Slaughter is too gullible in taking the companies’ word for what they need. Quite to the contrary I think that there are plenty of qualified tech workers already available in the U. S. but the companies don’t want to pay the wages necessary to hire them. I don’t have nearly as much sympathy for them as Mr. Slaughter does.

I’ve already proposed my solution to the problem: requiring companies to advertise the jobs for which they’re trying to secure H-1B visas in a common clearing house, requiring them to hire qualified domestic workers that apply for the jobs offered in the common clearing house, and imposing substantial penalties when companies fail to comply with the wage regulations that are part of the H-1B visa program. Then, when you’ve got such a program in place, remove the quotas entirely.

I note, too, that Mr. Slaughter confuses strong sales with “dynamism in high-innovation sectors and continued economic recovery”. Wages have been pretty flat in the tech sector for a half dozen years or more. Aren’t changes in the market clearing price for labor a better gauge for determining the demand for labor than sales?

As I’ve mentioned before there’s already good reason to believe that tech companies colluded to fix wages. I don’t think these same companies would be above lying about what they need.

3 comments… add one

  • KellyH

    There are other visa programs than H-1B available for foreign workers. If Facebook or Google really wants a particular non citizen, they can sponsor the O visa. But this isn’t about wanting a particular superstar; the tech companies want someone good enough, who isn’t a flight risk (changing companies is a problem for H-1B visa holders) , and who will work for low market rates.

    http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/employment/temporary.html

  • I think that wanting to avoid job-hoppers is a big part of the reason for the push for H-1B visas. Slavery is always popular among a certain group of business owners.

    However, that’s not a legitimate reason to apply for an H-1B visa.

  • Ben Wolf

    Agreed, Dave. Slaughter’ gushing love affair with the tech industry is clouding his judgement, given the gaping hole in his argument that large numbers of tech workers are desperately needed. We have eighty years of data telling us that wages rise when labor supply fails to meet demand; assuming Slaughter is correct we should see surging wages rather than flattening.

    Everyone including Slaughter knows this is not about demand curves but about driving down labor costs, which is to say it’s about again restructuring social power away from employees and toward employers.

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